Teacher Licensure in Tennessee

Taking Note NOVEMBER 2012 EXAMINING KEY EDUCATION REFORM IDEAS IN TENNESSEE Teacher Licensure in Tennessee Tennessee Framework, Recent Progress, and Future Opportunities Introduction Research has shown that effective teaching is the most important schoolbased factor in improving student achievement. One of the key pillars of reform identified in SCORE’s 2009 Roadmap to Success report is ensuring that excellent teaching occurs in every classroom in Tennessee. It is critical that we continue to push for the best and most effective teaching candidates to enter the profession. Debates over teacher licensure—who should license teachers, who should train them, and ultimately who should teach—existed long before the enactment of current licensure policies. At the start of the 19th century, the process for becoming a licensed teacher was largely determined and regulated by local policies. As teacher colleges were established in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, states began to take more control over the process by issuing teaching certificates to graduates of the colleges. Throughout the 20th century, state departments of education and teacher colleges expanded significantly, and the majority of states established a centralized licensure process. Today, all teachers are required to hold a license issued by the state in which they are currently employed.1 The licensure and certification process must reflect the high expectations to which we hold teachers. Despite what research has consistently shown about the critical role that teachers play in student learning, there is not sufficient evidence to establish a singular approach to teacher training. Measures such as the route to licensure, type of certification, attainment of advanced degrees, and years of teaching experience explain very little of the variation in teacher quality. However, these measures often make up the key components of a state’s teacher licensure process and can be used in determining high stake decisions regarding hiring and pay. There has been extensive research on the various factors that may influence teacher effectiveness, but “there is little firm empirical evidence to support conclusions about the effectiveness of specific approaches to teacher preparation.”2 The inability of researchers to link components of teacher training programs to student achievement has produced two contrasting ideas about how states might alter their teacher preparation and certification structures in order to produce the most effective teachers. The first promotes deregulation of the profession, suggesting that current entry barriers, such as education degree attainment and coursework requirements, be removed so that the field is opened to a greater number of candidates. The second urges states to increase formal education and pre-service requirements and set more demanding standards for candidates who wish to enter the profession. The tension between the ideas of relaxing versus increasing barriers to entry into teacher education programs emphasizes the need to rethink licensing policies. This memo outlines recommendations that are applicable to all types of teacher preparation programs, regardless of entry requirements or structure. Tennessee Framework Before exploring potential changes to the licensure and certification process, it is important to understand the Tennessee landscape and the roles of different stakeholder groups. The Tennessee State Board of Education (SBE) is responsible for approving the licensure standards and preparation program approval policies. It is the role of the Tennesee Department of Education (TDOE) to carry out the approval process by evaluating programs based on the SBE policy. Once the TDOE reviews the preparation program and makes a recommendation to the SBE, the SBE decides whether or not to allow the program to certify teachers. The state-approved teacher preparation programs provide the training and certification that is necessary to become a licensed educator. The TDOE’s Office of Teacher Education and Accreditation is responsible for issuing individual teacher licenses.3 Teacher candidates in the state can choose to go through either a traditional certification route or an alternative process. The chart on the following page illustrates the two main pathways for teachers in Tennessee. The traditional route is offered through higher education institutions with state-approved preparation programs. The alternative route must also be approved by the state and include a district partner, but can be provided by higher education institutions, local districts, and/or other education organizations, such as Teach For America and TNTP. Some alternative routes are designed specifically for current professionals who are interested in making a career change to teaching. For example, Teach Tennessee is a state-run program that seeks mid-career professionals who can teach in high need areas such as math, science, and foreign language. There are additional transitional licensure routes available for teachers who are already licensed in another state as well as those who have not yet passed the Praxis, the state’s exam for licensure.4 “ The licensure and certification process must reflect the high expectations to which we hold teachers. ” 1207 18th Avenue South, Suite 326, Nashville, TN 37212 — tel 615.727.1545 — fax 615.727.1569 — www.tnscore.org