School & District Management

State Chiefs to Examine Teacher Prep, Licensing

By Stephen Sawchuk — December 17, 2012 4 min read

Twenty-five state schools chiefs are vowing to take action to update their systems of teacher preparation and licensing, with an eye to ensuring teachers are ready the minute they take charge of their own classrooms.

The announcement last month from the Council of Chief State School Officers is probably state officials’ most explicit promise to engage in changes to teacher preparation, and it comes as the latest sign that the topic is likely to be a major focus of K-12 policymakers in 2013.

“Attention to teacher preparation is definitely growing at the state level,” said Sandi Jacobs, the managing director of state policy for the Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality, a group that tracks states’ teacher policies. “But it hasn’t yet reached the level of interest as other topics, like teacher evaluation.”

The 25 participating state superintendents and commissioners of education are in: Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia. They will implement recommendations in a report, also released Dec. 17, by a task force of the Washington-based CCSSO.

Among other measures, the report says that states should align certification requirements with the demands of college- and career-ready standards; develop performance assessments aligned to those new requirements; improve the process for approving teacher-preparation programs by raising colleges’ and programs’ entry requirements and acting on regular reviews to aid or shutter weak-performing ones; and provide better pre-K-20 achievement data to the programs to inform such efforts.

Structural Complications

The paper doesn’t spell out what those policies should look like. The CCSSO plans to provide technical assistance, support, and guidance to the state chiefs as they audit their policies and determine how to make changes.

States Promising to Make Changes

Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia

Janice Poda, the director of the CCSSO’S Strategic Initiative for the Education Workforce, said the task force concluded that changes to certification are necessary because licensing no longer signals quality.

“The public does not have a lot of faith in licensure meaning that a teacher is qualified or effective. It’s lost its ability to communicate that a person is ready for the classroom,” she said. “We will raise the import of what it means. ... It should be more than a completion of a set of courses.”

How quickly, and how radically, states can make the changes outlined in the report remains in question. The regulatory structure in each state differs, and state chiefs exercise varying degrees of control over licensure, certification, and preparation rules.

For instance, at least 11 states—including California and Texas—have an independent standards board that has direct authority over certification and/or preparation programs, according to the NCTQ. Other states have advisory bodies, or share authority among several entities.

“The regulatory landscape is quite varied across the states,” said Ms. Jacobs, who served on a separate committee that advised the task force. “There’s no one model for how the authority structures play out.”

Some state officials say they want to move quickly. Tennessee Commissioner Kevin Huffman said he wants his state’s board of education to pass new rules on teacher licensure and program approval by next summer.

“We do not have a rigorous performance-based bar” for teacher licensure, he said. “We have had a convoluted, bureaucratic bar, but not a rigorous one. I think we have it exactly backwards right now.”

Gaining Momentum

Iowa’s state director of education Jason Glass said he sees the work as complementing policymakers’ goals of improving teacher pay and tying it to a career ladder, a priority for the next legislative session.

“It represents one part of a more comprehensive picture of what we have to do to improve educator quality,” he said.

While teacher-preparation policy has taken a back seat to other issues, the past few years have seen increased movement in statehouses and education departments:

• Louisiana, Tennessee, and North Carolina now all produce data for education programs based on the performance of their graduates.

• New York state plans to implement a performance-based licensure and recertification system.

• Indiana recently completed an aggressive overhaul of its certification rules, making it easier for teachers to enter through alternative routes.

• Michigan officials officials in August moved to bar enrollments in certain certification areas at two underperforming teacher colleges, until they successfully strengthen their programming.

• A Kentucky overhaul of state licensing rules increased the minimum grade point average for entering candidates and added new student-teaching requirements.

• Officials of the Illinois board of education, over protests from some education schools, raised the bar on the state’s basic-skills exam for teachers and required candidates to achieve a minimum score on all four sections.

• Several states have added stand-alone tests of teachers’ ability to teach reading.

Next year will also see the publication of the NCTQ’s review of every college of education; the release of new regulations governing teacher-preparation accountability by the U.S. Department of Education; and the unveiling of new standards by the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

The task force that produced the CCSSO report included nine current or former state schools chiefs, two members the National Governors Association, and three representatives from the National Association of State Boards of Education.

Coverage of “deeper learning” that will prepare students with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in a rapidly changing world is supported in part by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, at www.hewlett.org.
A version of this article appeared in the January 09, 2013 edition of Education Week as State Chiefs Pledge Teacher Prep, Licensing Upgrades

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