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U.S. House Bill Seeks to Improve Portability of Teacher Licenses

By Stephen Sawchuk — June 07, 2016 3 min read
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Moving to a new state and want to continue teaching? Plan to spend at least a couple weeks or so on paperwork.

Colorado double-checks to see whether your student-teaching experience was sufficient. Pennsylvania makes even experienced teachers pass a content test. Massachusetts requires you to begin seeking a sheltered-English-immersion license endorsement.

It’s a process, in other words. But newly introduced federal legislation is looking to make it simpler, by setting up a system to enable teachers to move to another state without jumping through a lot of hoops.

State-specific rules are often well intentioned, but there are drawbacks, too.

In setting such detailed requirements, states have made it harder to alleviate teacher shortages by tapping teachers in nearby states. Minnesota’s review of out-of-state credentials got so complicated that more than a dozen teachers sued. And in spite of all the red tape, state vetting has often failed to flag teachers with records of misconduct.

Aligning Requirements

The federal proposal was introduced last month by Rep. André Carson, D-Ind. It would permit the U.S. Department of Education to fund an “eligible entity” to set up a process for teachers holding licenses in participating states to be recognized by another state without having to take additional coursework.

If they chose to take part, states would probably need to start bringing their licensing rules closer together. Under the proposal, they would have to administer at least one content test before granting a teaching license, plus one general pedagogy exam and one performance-based test within a year after a teacher began to teach.

States often use the same licensing tests, but set very different cutoff scores. So, to ensure a baseline level of rigor, states’ tests would have to be “identified as sufficiently rigorous” by a third-party group such as the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The proposal is modeled on recommendations from a 2014 report from the centrist think tank Third Way.

“We think this is really a benefit for teachers and states, in that this will obviously make it easier to move across state lines,” said Tamara Hiler, an education policy adviser for the group. “Just think of military spouses, folks who don’t have a lot of time before moving, states who want to be able to more easily recruit teachers.”

The big question on the proposal’s prospects isn’t merely legislative. It’s whether there’s an appetite among states to move toward such a system of licensing reciprocity and potentially cede some control.

Calls for reciprocity date back decades. While some progress was made in the 1990s with regional pacts like the Northeast Regional Credential, such efforts waned during the accountability era.

But Phillip Rogers, the executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification, says the stars are now realigning on the issue.

Frustrated Teachers

At least 27 states say they grant reciprocity to out-of-state teachers whose background checks, academic histories, and applications all check out, although in practice they do often insist teachers meet additional requirements for a full certificate, he said. The others have more complicated rules.

It’s those nitty-gritty details that have long frustrated mobile teachers.

Patty Pitts, the assistant superintendent for teacher education and licensure at the Virginia education department, says she sympathizes. She gets the occasional calls from Virginia teachers who have moved out of state and are struggling to put together enough documentation for a new license.

Virginia’s process is more flexible than other states’, Pitts contends. Out-of-state applicants with three years’ experience can get a waiver of the state’s licensing test, and they don’t have to undergo a painstaking course-by-course review.

“We don’t evaluate or pick apart the transcript to see if they have Virginia history and all of those things,” Pitts said. “Other states don’t have as much flexibility in their regulations as we do.”

On a broad level, there’s still considerable work to be done.

“Our discussions with other states [on reciprocity] are really at a beginning, preliminary level,” said Sarah Spross, the assistant state superintendent for educator effectiveness for Maryland.

A version of this article appeared in the June 08, 2016 edition of Education Week as Proposal Puts Teacher-License Portability Back in Spotlight

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