School & District Management

Renewing a Teaching License Doesn’t Help With Professional Growth, Report Finds

By Madeline Will — August 17, 2018 5 min read
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Every teacher has to renew their teaching license periodically—and too often, the renewal process is a missed opportunity for professional growth, concludes a new report.

The New America Foundation, a Washington think tank, has released a new report examining teacher recertification, its challenges, and its potential. Most states’ requirements for license renewal, the report finds, prioritize accumulating credit hours, rather than sustained, targeted professional learning that produces meaningful growth.

See also: Is Teacher Recertification Broken?

In December, Education Week did a deep-dive investigation into the teacher recertification process and how it could be improved. “Good training, [teachers] said, tends to happen despite—rather than because of—certificate-renewal requirements,” reporter Stephen Sawchuk wrote.

The New America report found that 44 states require teachers to complete continuing education requirements (measured using credit or clock hours), eight states require teachers to document minimum classroom teaching experience to renew their licenses, and six states consider teachers’ summative evaluation ratings during the licensure-renewal process. Some states have highly specific requirements—in West Virginia, teachers older than age 60 can renew their licenses based solely on their age, without having to take any professional development courses.

Among the states that require continuing education as part of the recertification process, most include higher education coursework and state- or district-sanctioned professional development activities, like seminars and workshops. Education Week reported that states have hundreds of approved providers of continuing education—at one point, Illinois had more than 8,000. That creates an issue of quality control.

While 23 states count job-embedded professional development like instructional coaching or mentoring toward continuing education, the report says teachers still end up boiling down the training to a number of credit hours completed. And while about 12 states incorporate professional growth plans as part of their recertification process—an attempt to align the activities teachers complete to renew their licenses with their needs for improvement—in practice, there’s still a focus on counting credits.

“Whether a teacher grows considerably while fulfilling her state’s renewal requirements or does not improve at all is of no consequence under most renewal systems,” New America researchers wrote in the report.

Models for Recertification

The report pulls out the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification process as a possible model for licensure renewal. About 30 states allow the rigorous, time-intensive process to count toward recertification, in some fashion.

Peggy Brookins, the president and CEO of the NBPTS, told Education Week that the National Board-certification process targets the same sorts of competencies states are trying to ensure via their continuing education requirements for teachers.

“What I go through on a daily basis when I talk about analysis and reflection, how I plan lessons, how I get to know my students, how I use data, how I use videos—all of that is part of the [board] recertification process, and it’s something you do constantly in your classroom,” Brookins said. “So having that versus sitting in a course that means nothing to me—it’s priceless.”

The New America report admits it wouldn’t be feasible to scale this model for all teachers within a state (the certification process costs nearly $2,000 and takes up to five years to complete), but suggests that more states should incorporate NBPTS into the relicensure process.

Another interesting approach to licensure is taking place in Georgia, which now requires teachers to develop professional learning goals and then engage in a professional learning community to help them complete the goals. According to the report, the Georgia Professional Standards Commission said their focus “is now not one of emphasizing seat time, but one of emphasizing the intentional learning occurring within professional learning.”

See also: It’s Not How Long You Spend in PD, It’s How Much You Grow

The report cautions that it’s too soon to tell whether the new system will be successful, but says if Georgia can provide sufficient resources and supports for districts, this model could be a purposeful approach to licensure renewal.


New America concludes the report with a bold suggestion: States who aren’t going to make sure the recertification process is professionally meaningful for teachers should scrap the license-renewal process altogether and offer lifetime licenses. Currently, only New Jersey issues a lifetime teaching license that carries no requirements for maintenance. Four other states technically issue lifetime licenses, but still require teachers to take periodic steps to maintain their license.

(It’s worth noting that when Wisconsin scrapped their license-renewal process, teachers were not happy. Education Week reported that many teachers were worried that this policy change contributed to a devaluing of their profession.)

However, for the states that are willing to make recertification meaningful, New America has a few recommendations. First, states should require that professional learning be tied to an area where a teacher has a demonstrated need for growth, in order for it to count toward recertification.

The report also encourages states to experiment with new ways to objectively assess professional learning in the license renewal process. It highlights Tennessee’s pilot program that uses microcredentials in the relicensure process. Teachers earn the badges by submitting evidence to the state that they’ve mastered small components of instruction, and they can earn up to five PD points for each microcredential they complete.

And professional growth plans should be integrated with state teacher-evaluation systems, the report says. While the researchers do not suggest using evaluation scores as the sole determinant of eligibility for license renewal, the ratings could be used to bump a teacher up from an initial license to a standard license, or a standard license to an advanced one.

Read the full New America report here. And then check out Education Week’s special report, Beyond Red Tape: Making Teacher Recertification Meaningful.

Image: Georgia teachers in a professional learning community evaluate a video of someone teaching and provide feedback. —Melissa Golden/Redux for Education Week/File

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.