July 25, 2013 by

Improving Licensure Standards to Meet Rising Teacher Expectations


By Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)

We have raised expectations for students in our country to reflect the demands of the workplace and the world. These higher expectations for students mean that we must also set higher expectations for our educators, and this will require us to prepare and support teachers and principals in new and innovative ways. While chiefs have been paying attention to what needs to be in place to support educators throughout their careers, many are currently focused on the entry point into the profession, as that will help ensure that teachers are classroom ready on day one.

Our current licensure systems are antiquated and have lost credibility with the public. Initial licensure requirements can and should be a key driver of what an entry system will look like for teachers and leaders. Before states can address reforming teacher and leader licensure systems in this country, they must first ask themselves: What do we want licensure to do?

Historically, state licensure requirements set minimum qualifications for educators before they were allowed to practice in a classroom or school. This is why we have basic skills tests and tests of content and pedagogical knowledge. Today, however, chiefs are beginning to ask licensure assessments to do more to ensure a certain standard of educator quality and to be based on indicators correlated with readiness to enter a classroom or a school.

New licensure standards and systems need to ensure educator candidates demonstrate the knowledge and skills necessary to meet high expectations, help teachers and principals continuously improve their practice throughout their career, and give chiefs some insight into how prepared the candidate is to do the job and whether they will be effective so that they can make informed hiring decisions.

Also, if licensure systems are to measure what we value, then evidence of student achievement and growth must be included in the licensure process—something that is an emerging trend in states as a key aspect of license renewal. Although this is a challenge for initial licensure—because educators who are new to the classroom have a limited track record with students from which to pull evidence—it is critical that licensure decisions are made with the best evidence we have about a teacher’s ability to advance student learning.

As an example, Tennessee has been leading the nation with improvements in education policy. Under the leadership of Commissioner Kevin Huffman, the Tennessee Department of Education is proposing through their state board fundamental changes to their licensure system that will redesign the pathway to teaching. As part of these changes, the state will identify indicators, including overall evaluation scores and improved student achievement and growth, to use for licensure. The state also will set teacher standards in Tennessee that are tied to the nuanced evaluation system, redefine tenure, and provide ongoing support and recognition. This is a great example for the nation.

CCSSO anticipates that many states will start tackling these issues, and we will support them in their efforts. We are committed to working with states to address their licensure systems to ensure that teachers and leaders have the skills necessary to move all students toward college and career readiness. In addition to licensure, states will need to focus on additional levers for changing preparation and entry into the profession, including program approval, data collection and analysis, and reporting. This is hard work that cannot be done alone. State chiefs will be working with governors, educator preparation programs, education associations, and state boards of education to better prepare our educator workforce. Strong leadership, collaboration, and political will are all necessary in order to achieve what we value most—student achievement.