March 13, 2019

E4E-Minnesota Member Testifies at the Minnesota House on teacher diversity and pathways into the profession

Ben MacKenzie Ninth-grade speech and composition teacher at Hiawatha Collegiate High School in Minneapolis

On March 4, the Minnesota House held a hearing on House File 1329, a bill that would create an opaque teacher licensing system that shuts out many teachers of color.

E4E-Minnesota member Ben MacKenzie, a ninth-grade speech and composition teacher at Hiawatha Collegiate High School in Minneapolis, gave a powerful testimony against this bill at the hearing, speaking about the importance of teacher diversity and alternative pathways into the profession.

Click here to join Ben to tell your state legislators to oppose HF 1329 because it will push effective, experienced educators out of the classroom!

Ben, along with other advocates, hope their testimonies will protect important licensure laws that fixed Minnesota’s broken system and created multiple pathways into teaching.

Check out what he told the committee members:


Madam Chair, Committee members, and colleagues, my name is Ben MacKenzie and I’m a ninth-grade Speech and Composition Teacher at Hiawatha Collegiate High School.

I’m here today as a teacher with 13 years of experience in district, charter, and international schools; as an alumnus of St. Olaf College’s Teacher Training Program; as the holder of that “gold standard” of teacher licenses: a Minnesota State Teacher’s License; and as an advocate with Educators for Excellence, who has long worked with colleagues to pursue greater diversity in the ranks of teachers for my current students, my future students, and my own 15 month old son, in order to speak out on behalf of my colleagues and students who would suffer under this bill.

Three years ago, I was fortunate to collaborate with tremendous educators from across the metro area in advocating here at the Capitol for greater diversity in Minnesota’s Teaching Corps. I testified before the Senate Committee then, urging to ease the process for teachers practicing their craft out of state to join our excellent education system.

I am proud of the progress that we as a state have made in welcoming new teachers thanks to bills passed by the legislature to reform teacher licensure. So, I’m deeply troubled by this bill’s attempt to undo that progress and regress to older and inequitable systems.

Simply put, this bill prizes pathways above people. It would serve the same purpose as a bill limiting these committee members from working on legislation or running for new terms unless they had a law degree from a particular program.

If passed, this bill would make one path to a license more important than hard working teachers currently in the field, even if they are positively impacting student achievement.

This path would be made more important than families who seek the best education possible for their children.

Most dangerously of all, the path would be more important than the students who benefit from diverse teachers currently in the classroom.

While others would claim that this pathway demands a “higher standard,” they misstate the facts. The supposed “higher standard” of traditional licensure has been shown to produce only a marginal difference in student achievement for a minimal amount of time. The supposed “higher standard” flies in the face of our own best teaching practices, emphasizing seat time and diminishing practical experience, all for negligible results.

I loved my teacher training program, but I know that I didn’t stop learning when I graduated, or when I got a job. I learn every day from my students, my school leaders, and, especially from my colleagues, including those who would lose their chance to a permanent license under this bill.

By eliminating opportunities for out-of-state and non-traditionally licensed teachers, we are threatening to drive out excellent teachers who have already immeasurably improved the lives of Minnesota students.

It could push away amazing educators I have seen inspire students: from the professional musician and paraprofessional who stepped in to inspire new artists when another teacher abandoned their position, to a Chilean Spanish teacher, with 30+ years of experience at elite schools, who now works to empower young people of color to become the first in their family to attend college; from a college physics professor who wanted to have greater impact at a younger age, to a former divinity student who promotes fractions and philosophy in equal measure; from a New Yorker who had her own education diminished only to fight back and devote herself to the learning of others, to an Ohio teacher of the year who just wanted to move home: these excellent educators would be blindly labeled as “ineffective” regardless of their highly effective practices. 

This bill would needlessly hinder educators of color who comprise 23 percent of teachers in the targeted tiers, and it would diminish the experiences of the students they teach. My own students could see as many as six of their eight teachers pushed out of the classroom.

High standards are important, but if we make these supposed “high standards” on the path to licensure more important than the people who teach, work, and learn in our schools, then we will never promote the high standard of education all Minnesotans deserve. 

Therefore I urge the committee not to abort our mission to improve Minnesota schools through recently altered licensure standards, but to invest time and energy to help these reforms meet the high standards we expect in the classroom and in our community. 

I ask you to support all the teachers in the state as we seek to serve all families and all students that is why I ask you to oppose HF1329.

Join Ben and take action right now to tell your state legislators to oppose HF 1329 because it will push effective, experienced educators out of the classroom!

Ben MacKenzie

Ben MacKenzie is a ninth-grade speech and composition teacher at Hiawatha Collegiate High School in Minneapolis. Ben has been teaching for 13 years in traditional district and charter schools. Ben was a part of the E4E-Minnesota Teacher Policy Team on teacher diversity.