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States Loosen Teacher-Licensure Rules Amid Shortage Fears

With policymakers across the country increasingly worried about teacher shortages, one after another, state licensing authorities have been loosening certification rules.

In Utah, prospective teachers now only need a bachelor's degree and a passing score on a content-area test to attain a license. Previously, these candidates were required to have years of practice teaching and some college-level education classes under their belt before being granted a license.

Wisconsin state superintendent Tony Evers recently announced a slew of changes to his state's teacher licensing procedures to make it easier for retired and prospective teachers to get certified. Teachers with emergency one-year licenses will be allowed to renew their credentials even if they haven't passed required tests yet. Retired teachers or those planning to retire will be given five-year licensure extensions without having to go through the additional training typically required.

In July, New York cleared the pathway for more out-of-state educators to get licensed to teach in the Empire State, dropping the requirement that teachers who are certified in other states take New York's own certification exams. 

And back in May, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed a bill that creates a new pathway for teaching candidates who have a bachelor's degree in and work experience related to a subject area. The bill leaves the details of how much and what type of work experience will be required to the state's licensing board.

In all four cases, lawmakers cited concerns about teacher shortages.

"The educator workforce shortage is one of the most critical public policy issues facing our state," Wisconsin superintendent Evers said in a statement. "We must look for long- and short term solutions, identify what is driving shortages in Wisconsin and nationally, and search for actionable steps that can bring our schools and educators relief. Well-trained educational staff are critical partners in our work to prepare our kids for college and career."

While there's scarce evidence of a teacher-shortage crisis on the national level, research does support the idea that some states are experiencing serious shortages on account of high turnover rates and "supply deficits." State teacher-licensure procedures, meanwhile, often make it cumbersome for out-of-state teachers to transfer their credentials to a new state.

According to federal data, Wisconsin and Oklahoma are experiencing widespread shortages across several content areas, while Utah's shortages are largely confined to STEM and special education—specializations that most states struggle to find enough teachers to meet demand.

Even so, critics have questioned the impulse to loosen certification requirements, saying it could reduce teacher quality and diminish teachers' professional status even further. 

Utah's new rules have received the most scorn. Utah Education Association president Heidi Matthews has urged the board to rehash the new rules, saying they will only exacerbate inequalities, as rich districts will be able to hire more mentor teachers to get all the new inexperienced teachers up to speed.

"It's a human-rights issue," she argued.


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