The Certification Maze

Teachers often can’t easily get a teaching job in a new state – usually because of confusing bureaucracy, a battery of expensive exams, and complex rules about which university courses will be accepted.  There is little research showing these rules lead to better teachers, but some evidence that they harm students and push teachers to quit the profession. Fortunately, there are states working to make it easier, and ESSA allows federal money to go toward a (voluntary) system of licensure reciprocity between states.

Matt Barnum recently explored the issue of teacher certification in an article in The 74. Excerpts appear below:

The National Council on Teacher Quality, a D.C.-based nonprofit, found that as of 2015, the vast majority of states had fairly strict requirements for certifying teachers from other states: They are usually required to take a licensure test, meet some other requirement (such as a review of college or graduate school transcripts or syllabi), or both.

A handful of states, including Arizona and Florida, issue certifications to out-of-state teachers with relatively few requirements. One state, Delaware, grants reciprocity based solely on evidence that a teacher was effective in his or her past position.

The National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification has compiled certification agreements between most states in the country. They are not reciprocity agreements but simply a collection of the (often obscure) requirements for moving teaching credentials from state to state.

Some of these rules seem reasonable in theory but in practice may serve as a strong deterrent to remaining in the profession. Many states, like New York, allow for easier reciprocity for teachers with three to five years’ experience — but this requirement may restrict entry since people are often most mobile earliest in their career.

Even when the process is not all that burdensome, it can be difficult to navigate, with state departments of education sometimes giving unclear or contradictory information. States have a dizzying array of certification types: initial, interim, emergency, professional, conditional, master, temporary, transitional, internship, supplementary. In many places, state websites are bewildering.

Research shows that state borders can and do prevent teachers from switching schools across state lines.

One study looked at the Washington-Oregon state line and found that “even among school districts near the state border, almost three times as many teachers make a within-state move of 75 or more miles than make any cross-state move.”

The researchers note that this may be caused by licensure rules as well as the lack of pension portability and the benefits of maintaining seniority in the same state. The paper argues that such policies are harmful: “Barriers to mobility might exacerbate teacher shortages and increase attrition from the profession.”

Surveys of teachers also appear to confirm that the obstacles are real. Some 41 percent of former teachers who would consider returning to the profession cited “state certification reciprocity” as very or extremely important in their consideration, according to an analysis of federal data conducted by the Learning Policy Institute. That percentage is higher than in 2005, when about 35 percent of teachers gave that as a reason.

In 2016, a proposal, modeled after the Third Way report, was introduced in Congress to help unify processes across states, though the legislation hasn’t gone anywhere yet. However, a provision was included in the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal K-12 education law, allowing states to use federal money earmarked for increasing the ranks of high-quality teachers and principals to set up an interstate system of reciprocity of the sort envisioned by Third Way.

For more, see: