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Teacher Leader: Ease Mobility, Elevate the Profession With License Reciprocity

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.

It has taken approximately $500 and 7 months to convince my new home state that I’m a worthy teacher candidate – even though I have two master’s degrees and 11 years of classroom experience, am a National Teacher Fellow, and was a state elementary teacher of the year. It will take an additional 3 years and 36 credit hours of graduate work, at my expense, to retain my position in my new state.  It’s a good thing that I’m committed to a career in education, because the process of moving states presents repeated opportunities to step away from the field.

Especially at a time when student enrollment is rising and teacher shortages abound, we must ease mobility for proven teachers. Frustrations in changing states as an educator range from silly (losing hand-delivered transcript copies, requiring a second set and second payment) to inconvenient (police-department issued fingerprints were not acceptable by my district, requiring an additional background check and fee for fingerprinting at a different location on a different day) to monumentally outrageous (retaking basic licensure exams to the tune of hundreds of dollars, even with over a decade of experience and past scores available). Repeat the process of applying at the state level at each additional district applied for, and the exasperation amplifies. Further, many districts limit the number of “transferable” years of service for their pay scales, meaning educators can lose pay by transferring, even just a few miles down the road. Many states grant career-changers a grace period to take missing classes or otherwise support those new to the profession; but why do experienced teachers from other states have to jump through elephant-sized hoops?

In the next 10 years, the K-12 population in America will increase by roughly 3 million students, but enrollment in teacher preparation programs fell 35% from 2009 to 2014, according to A Coming Crisis in Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the U.S., a recent report from the Learning Policy Institute. Already, 48 states cite some type of teacher shortage and high attrition rates averaging 8% for the teaching population. Alternative routes to certification have become increasingly popular to ward off these dwindling numbers, and yet a report from Education Policy Analysis Archives finds that nearly all of those recruited from such programs leave the profession within 3 years. The State Higher Education Executive Officers issued a telling report 15 years ago with a simple solution that still rings true: Solving Teacher Shortages Through License Reciprocity.

I’m hardly the only teacher to be frustrated by the lack of reciprocity of professional credentials between states. Removing this obstacle would not only keep more experienced educators in the field, it would encourage competition to recruit, retain, and value our educators across borders, elevating the whole profession. In preservice teacher preparation, the quality of regional and other locally focused programs could improve as they compete on a broader stage. States would have to improve the accessibility and integration of their data systems as well – an area currently limited by the insular nature of states’ education policies.

Supporting educator mobility is an important strategy for recruiting and retaining a high-quality workforce, especially in a field already threatened by a lack of meaningful development opportunities, low pay, and limited autonomy. Earlier this year, AACTE’s state chapters released state policy recommendations for strengthening the educator pipeline that ask states to address these challenges. Having recently navigated a cross-country move as an educator, I have a firsthand appreciation for the ways these recommendations would strengthen the profession.

Teachers are a valuable commodity. It is imperative that quality educators be encouraged to stay in the profession, compensated fairly for their experience level, and directed to where their skills and expertise are most needed. Simplifying license reciprocity will push teacher preparation programs and districts to be more competitive, encourage data systems that facilitate educator relocation, and build a culture in which proficient educators are recruited and supported across boundaries. If we don’t act now, who will be in that classroom when the additional 3 million students show up?

Meghan Everette, 2015-2017 Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow, is a K-6 math teacher on special assignment in the Salt Lake City (UT) School District. She previously taught in Daphne, Alabama, and was Alabama’s Elementary Teacher of the Year for 2013. She can be reached through e-mail at meghankeverette@gmail.com and through Twitter at @bamameghan.

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Meghan Everette

Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow