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Teacher Licensing Reconsidered

With thousands of teachers across the country facing layoffs at the end of the spring semester because of daunting state budget shortfalls, it may seem irrelevant to consider the issue of license reciprocity. But I think this is precisely the right time to do so.

Even during these hard times, the law of supply and demand has not been repealed. It continues to affect school districts. In fact, it is arguably more important than ever today because there is total agreement that highly qualified teachers are the single most important in-school factor affecting student performance. As a result, we need to make top talent more readily available where the demand is greatest.

But the present crazy-quilt system makes such mobility unlikely. That's because experienced teachers are discouraged from seeking positions in other states as a result of the lack of true licensing reciprocity. I define the term as unconditionally guaranteeing that a teaching license in one state can be exchanged for a teaching license in all other states. At present, the rules differ from one state to another.

The Interstate Agreement that was developed by the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification was designed to assist teachers who had completed state approved teacher education programs in one state obtain a teaching license in another state. Some 40 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico are signatories.

Although it is a step in the right direction, the contract has limitations. For example, in many cases teachers must still meet the receiving state's licensing requirements. The closest we have come to the ideal are Florida and Mississippi, which offer full license reciprocity to out-of-state teachers who have standard licenses and a minimum of two years of teaching experience.

Critics will argue that true license reciprocity will weaken standards by permitting teachers to slip in under the radar. But possession of a license, coupled with performance data, provide far greater assurance of instructional effectiveness than forcing these same teachers to jump through further hoops. Moreover, the demand for teachers is uneven. Some states need teachers only in certain subject areas. Other states find themselves at a huge disadvantage because of their location or the students they serve. True license reciprocity would help these states recruit and retain the teachers they need.

In November, David Steiner, New York State education commissioner, waived the state's 73-year-old law that required chancellors to hold education credentials so that Cathie Black could become chancellor of New York City's schools. Steiner justified his decision by citing her demonstrated ability as a corporate executive. Why can't teachers be accorded the treatment they deserve as a matter of policy when they possess far greater relevant wherewithal?

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