Colorado education researcher Robert Reichardt questions a couple key findings in a report by The New Teacher Project that he believes will play a key role in revamping Colorado’s teacher licensure system. 

A recent Education News Colorado article notes that reforming teacher licensure is on the governor’s priority list for the upcoming legislative session. The focus on licensure has been building for some time and makes sense given state’s new model teacher evaluation system. I expect a core part of the agenda for licensure reform will come from a report on Colorado’s licensure system called Making Licensure Matter by The New Teacher Project (TNTP).

The report identifies several important challenges facing our licensure system. These include outdated licensure standards, the wasted effort of a renewal process based on continuing education credits, the new and emerging roles for leadership in schools and that the licensure office at the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) has faced some huge administrative log jams and delays.

However, some significant challenges were missed, including engaging our best teachers as supervisors of student teachers and interns and licensure’s divided governance between CDE and the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE). Equally important, it does not recognize the contextual changes created by standards-based accountability, which has increased district and school interest in teacher quality.

I am not confident that two of the report’s main recommendations move us in the right direction. First is the recommendation to swap out the four-level licensure scheme (alternative, initial, professional and masters) for a two-level scheme (teacher and transition). The second is to implement a new – unproven – exit performance exam as a key quality control and feedback measure within the system.

Before I dive into alternatives that should be considered, it is helpful to review what teacher licensure actually does. At its core, licensure accomplishes four things:

  1. It is how the state instructs teacher preparation programs on what should be included in that preparation through accreditation.
  2. It helps districts identify qualified candidates and communicate to parents that teachers are qualified.
  3. It helps support the professionalization of the teaching profession.
  4. It sets minimum standards for content knowledge (through assessments and/or course completion) and safety (through background criminal record checks).

Instead of the proposed to-be-developed performance assessment, I think districts and schools should have a direct role in providing quality control and accreditation of teacher preparation programs. This would give the consumers of new teachers, those with direct evidence on preparation quality, a much larger role in accrediting a preparation program instead of having the state act as an agent for schools and districts trying to discern quality.

Administration of program accreditation should be directed by a board composed of district and school representatives. Have this board give guidance to and accreditation of teacher preparation programs based on the quality of new graduates hired from these programs and emerging needs facing these districts. This guidance could occur within the frameworks of the state’s new expectations for teachers. This would also invest schools and districts in the process of providing high quality intern and student teaching supervisors. This new engagement structure recognizes that our new standards-based accountability systems give schools and districts increased awareness and interest in increasing the quality of teacher preparation systems.

My other recommendation is to keep the three main levels of the current licensure structure (initial, professional and masters). Currently, the initial license is correlated with tenure status, which is growing in importance as part of SB-191. This connection should be strengthened with the initial status directly tied to whether a teacher is granted tenure (or loses tenure) based on performance evaluations. The master certification should also be retained. This certification is directly tied to National Board of Professional Teaching Standards certification. This is one of our few tools that have been shown to identify effective educators.  The state should not move away from this important reform that clearly does support the professionalization of the profession.

Our licensure system is ripe for re-assessment. The TNTP report is a great start to this conversation. I hope we have the ability to re-fashion our licensure to better meet the challenges facing our education system.