Opinion
Federal Opinion

Why Can’t Teachers Cross State Lines?

By Arthur E. Wise — September 13, 2016 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Most licensed professionals can move across state lines with little more than their licenses in hand. This is not the case for teachers, who discover that a license is often not worth the paper it’s written on. For them, a move across state lines frequently entails red tape to be negotiated, new tests to be passed, new courses to be taken, and a new license to be obtained. Why the difference? The answer is in plain sight, though apparently invisible to those who have caused the problem and have the power to fix it.

In most professions, national standards and the state recognition of licenses based on them result in relatively easy interstate reciprocity. There may be a few hoops to jump through, but nothing overly challenging. In teaching, the absence of national licensing standards and, therefore, the impossibility of state recognition of licenses based on them, leads, at best, to cumbersome interstate reciprocity. At worst, and all too often, it leads to frustration, resignation, and teacher shortages.

State legislatures, which ultimately have authority over professions that require a license, have, in effect, sanctioned state reciprocity but have never applied this policy to teaching. Legislatures have authorized such professionals as physical therapists, psychologists, architects, engineers, accountants, and doctors to cross state lines with minimal difficulty. Teachers, on the other hand, must effectively acquire a new license as if they have never taught before and no matter how long they may have held a license in another state.

Why Can't Teachers Cross State Lines? States must create authoritative teacher-licensing boards to treat teachers as the professionals they are, urges Arthur E. Wise. Image by Steve Braden.

Were legislatures to treat teaching like other professions, the problem of teacher-licensing reciprocity, along with many other barriers to teacher quality and supply, would likely be eliminated.

The solution begins when the legislature establishes a professional state-licensing board. This board has the authority to set and enforce standards for entry to and practice of the profession. States have established such authoritative boards for many professions, with the notable exception of teaching. Typically, legislatures do not override the standards and processes employed by their licensing boards. In general, interstate-licensing reciprocity is relatively easy since state boards tend to trust the licenses granted by their counterparts in other states, given that most rely on the same national standards, tests, and assessments.

To be sure, some states have created teacher-licensing boards, which they often label “advisory.” However, nearly all lack the authority of other professional boards. It is true that these licensing boards can establish standards, but they cannot enforce them. They can say what teachers must know and be able to do, but they cannot insist that teachers new to the profession or new to the state meet their expectations. Legislatures and other state bodies routinely compromise teacher-licensing standards to ensure an adequate supply of teachers. It is no wonder that states do not trust the teaching licenses of other states.

Were legislatures to treat teaching like other professions, the problem of teacher-licensing reciprocity ... would likely be eliminated."

A professional license signifies that the professional is ready to practice. Generally, candidates for a license must be graduates of accredited preparation programs and pass external examinations to demonstrate they have acquired or developed the knowledge, skills, dispositions, and ability to perform according to standards set by the profession. The standards are never compromised, thus assuring one and all that licensed professionals are ready to practice and interstate reciprocity is possible.

Rigorous teaching standards, the equal of standards in other professions, exist. Standards-based tests of candidates’ academic-content knowledge and teaching knowledge exist. EdTPA, an assessment of teaching performance, measures teaching readiness. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards measures accomplished teaching for advanced certification. (Twenty-seven states have recognized NBPTS certification as the basis for reciprocity, but this option is available only to the relatively small number of teachers who are national-board-certified.)

Many states use the quality-assurance measures associated with accreditation, teacher tests, and teacher assessments, but others do not. Many states apply these measures with rigor; others do not. Many states, even those with rigorous expectations, relax them in times of shortage and for other reasons.

Other professions, including medicine and architecture, have powerful national organizations that represent state-licensing boards or the profession. They play key roles in facilitating interstate reciprocity. The medical profession has the Federation of State Medical Boards and the National Board of Medical Examiners, which set rigorous standards for medical education, licensing, certification and administer assessments, and other processes that measure whether standards are met. Architecture has the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, the association of state boards, which develops and administers licensing and certification examinations.

State-licensing boards choose to rely on the examinations and processes used by their respective national bodies. The result is that the license issued by the state is based on national professional standards and therefore similar to the licenses granted by all other states. States can and do exercise their prerogative to expect a bit more or a bit less, sometimes for substantive reasons and sometimes for political ones. Thus, licenses do vary from state to state but within narrow enough parameters that interstate reciprocity allows professionals to cross states lines with minimal red tape.

We must therefore establish a National Board for Teacher Licensing, modeled on such bodies in other professions, to develop beginning-teacher licensing standards and to work with state teacher-licensing boards. Alternatively, the NBPTS could expand its mission beyond advanced certification to include initial teacher licensing. It has the advantage of substantial experience in the assessment of teaching performance.

Teachers’ unions, which have long supported state boards, must educate legislatures on their importance. In turn, legislatures should trust teacher licensing as they trust other professional licensing, no more and no less. Clearly, this is a step that legislatures have balked at because of their antipathy toward teachers’ unions. The unions may need to mobilize the larger education stakeholder community of education schools, parents, the business community, and others who see the advantage in interstate reciprocity for teachers.

Until the void is filled, teachers will continue to have difficulty crossing state lines. As it stands, interstate reciprocity is a cruel hoax for teachers and a self-defeating policy for states that fail to trust teachers at least as much as they trust other professionals.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Trauma-Informed Practices & the Construction of the Deep Reading Brain
Join Ryan Lee-James, Ph.D. CCC-SLP, director of the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy, with Renée Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD., Vital Village Community Engagement Network; Neena McConnico, Ph.D, LMHC, Child Witness to Violence Project; and Sondra
Content provided by Rollins Center

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal How a Big Federal Spending Package Could Affect School Meals and Student Poverty Counts
Legislation to expand access to free school meals highlights a persistent concern: how to improve the ways we identify students in poverty.
6 min read
Food service assistant Brenda Bartee, rear, gives students breakfast, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, during the first day of school at Washington Elementary School in Riviera Beach, Fla.
Food service assistant Brenda Bartee, rear, gives students breakfast, last month on the first day of school at Washington Elementary School in Riviera Beach, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Federal Feds to Probe Whether Texas Ban on School Mask Mandates Violates Disability Rights Laws
The Education Department has already opened investigations in six other states that ban universal school mask requirements.
2 min read
A staff member holds the door open for kids on the first day of school at Goodwin Frazier Elementary School in New Braunfels, Texas on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020.
A staff member holds the door open at Goodwin Frazier Elementary School in New Braunfels, Texas in 2020. This year, Texas has prohibited school districts from requiring all students to wear masks.
Mikala Compton/Herald-Zeitung via AP
Federal New Federal Team to Work on Puerto Rico School Improvement, Oversight
The Puerto Rico Education Sustainability Team will focus on creating better learning environments and improving financial management.
3 min read
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visits the Emilio Delgado School in Corozal on June 30, 2021 during a visit to Puerto Rico.
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visits the Emilio Delgado School in Corozal on June 30, 2021 during a visit to Puerto Rico.
Teresa Canino Rivera/GDA via AP
Federal Pandemic Tests Limits of Cardona's Collaborative Approach as Education Secretary
He's sought the image of a veteran educator among former peers, but COVID has forced him to take a tough stance toward some state leaders.
10 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter speak to Mia Arias, 10, during their visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021 in New York.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter speak to Mia Arias, 10, during a visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, last month.
Brittainy Newman/AP