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More States Are Making It Easier to Transfer Your Teaching License

It's a problem that teachers, doctors, and lawyers have in common: When they move from state to state, their licenses may not go with them.

In the teaching realm, a handful of states offer full reciprocity—meaning certified teachers can come from any other state and be considered fully licensed right away. But the majority of states require incoming teachers to at the least take some additional coursework or assessments. 

More states, though, are trying to simplify the license transfer process, according to a new analysis from the Education Commission of the States.

Since 2016, 11 states have passed regulations making it easier for out-of-state teachers to get their licenses.

"That was a big takeaway for me—that this is something states care about and they're doing a lot of work on," said Stephanie Aragon, a policy analyst for ECS and the report's author. 

Both Arizona and Nevada became full reciprocity states over the last couple of years (joining Florida, Mississippi, and Missouri). Oklahoma went almost as far, granting out-of-state teachers an initial license immediately, and then making them eligible for a full standard license after a year.

Easing the 'Nightmare' of Navigating State Regulations

Megan Allen, the 2010 Florida Teacher of the Year, moved to Massachusetts a couple years ago to be with her now-husband. She said getting a handle on the states' reciprocity requirements was a "nightmare." (Allen also writes a blog for Education Week Teacher.)

"It's so complicated to try to navigate the system and find answers," she said. 

For the ECS analysis, Aragon waded through state statutes, regulations, and department of education web pages. "This is the work I do and what I think about all day, and some of these systems were difficult for me to make sense of," she said. 

The ECS report includes a map with licensure reciprocity requirements for every state.


(See the full interactive map, with more information about requirements, on the ECS site.)

The state-by-state analysis shows:

  • 31 states require out-of-state teachers to take extra coursework or training before entering the classroom or within a certain number of years of entering;
  • 43 states and the District of Columbia require out-of-state teachers to take assessments;
  • 24 states and D.C. make reciprocity easier for out-of-state teachers who have advanced credentials;
  • 27 states have special provisions for military spouses.

Even so, the question remains: What makes a teacher qualified in one state but not in another state? (I.e., why isn't credentialing national?)

In places like Arizona and Wyoming, teachers need to take a course or test on the state's constitution before receiving their credentials, the data tool shows. In California, teachers need to complete courses on teaching English-learners. 

The ECS report also points to a study in North Carolina showing that out-of-state teachers were significantly less effective than those prepared in state

"Part of it is labor supply in that state," said Aragon. For example, "if they're preparing way more teachers than they keep in the state ... teachers who are most qualified to teach may stay in the state." And those who can't find jobs may cross state lines. 

That's why a blanket policy on reciprocity across the states may not make sense, she said. 

Links to Teacher Shortages?

As for the renewed legislative interest in reciprocity, that could be a product of increasing concern about teacher shortages.

As we've written, the idea that there's a national teacher shortage appears to be a myth. Shortages do certainly exist, however, in certain geographic regions and subject areas. 

States are showing an appetite for changing policies related to licensure generally, said Aragon, to help fill open teaching positions. Easing the reciprocity regulations is a part of that, she said.

The complexity of transferring her license is a major reason Allen, the former Florida teacher of the year, who is also National Board-certified, left the public school classroom. She ended up taking a job in higher education. 

"There were great jobs open and I didn't have to jump through as many hoops," she said. "Maybe it was me being stubborn, but I already felt like I'd done so much to prove I was an effective educator."

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