Do we really need different teacher licensing for every state?
Every state has its own licensing requirements for teachers. Some states also allow for license reciprocity, meaning that if you have a teaching license from one state, you can transfer it fairly easily to another state and start teaching there. My state, Iowa, is not one of those states. In fact, the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners states quite clearly in its Licensure Handbook that
No, Iowa does not have reciprocity with any state. All individuals applying for licensure in Iowa must meet Iowa requirements. An evaluation is done to ensure that the coursework completed by the applicant meets Iowa’s minimum requirements. In most cases, applicants who have completed a teacher preparation program through a regionally-accredited college or university, received college credits, and completed either a student teaching or internship, may be eligible for Iowa licensure.
As many educators and schools can attest, the difficulty of transferring a teaching license (and, perhaps more importantly, retirement benefits) from one state to another can be a significant inhibitor to teacher mobility across state lines, recruitment of teaching talent from outside the state’s borders, and offering high-quality online learning opportunities to students that are facilitated by fantastic educators in other locations. You’re an excellent teacher from Montana that wants to move to Des Moines to work with students with special needs? Fill out all of this paperwork, pay us a big fee, and maybe you’ll be eligible. There’s a phenomenal physics teacher from Vermont whom you’d like to recruit to Cedar Rapids to work with urban high school kids? We’ll make her jump through a bunch of hoops. There’s an incredible online AP American History course taught by an awesome teacher in Delaware? Sorry, but if he doesn’t have an Iowa license, we’re skeptical.
This problem is not relegated to just Iowa, of course. Every state has an often-bewildering patchwork of rules, paperwork, processing fees, timelines, coursework demands, certification exam requirements, and other barriers to recognizing and utilizing out-of-state teacher excellence. This quote from a teacher in Kansas pretty much sums it up:
I graduated summa [cum laude], have three Master’s [degrees], and have scored perfect scores on four different Praxis tests. Shouldn’t I be able to teach in any state? [Teachers on the Move, p. 31]
Do we really need different teacher licensing for every state? Is the job of being a kindergarten teacher or special education teacher or high school math teacher or middle school physical education teacher in Iowa that much different than in Idaho or Arkansas? Couldn’t we come up with some sort of national teacher licensing scheme, accompanied by some short professional development experiences that got people up to speed on whatever state-specific regulations or professional knowledge they needed? Of course we could.
Many state teacher licensing rules exemplify legacy policies, structures, and mindsets that were created at a time when geography was a greater limitation. Today workers are much more mobile, workforce pools are global rather than just local, and we have the ability to share organizational information (and teach) across distance at the speed of light. Our teacher credentialing mechanisms have not kept up with our present reality. As such, they often inhibit the flexibility, adaptability, and nimbleness that we need our school systems to possess in these rapidly-changing times.
[Guiding Question: As we move toward more cognitively-complex, technology-suffused learning environments, what individual and societal mindsets – and local, state, and federal policy supports and/or barriers – need reconsideration?]
Image credit: Bigstock, 3d rendering of a map of USA