The middle class is shrinking. Those in power have run up enormous debts on public credit while shoveling most of the money into private pockets. The corporations that have benefitted from this borrowing binge, meanwhile, leverage the global trade system to transfer their profits beyond the reach of national governments.

Meanwhile, we have been told lies by Democrats and by Republicans, divided into artificial camps and led into debates that are either irrelevant or so dramatically scripted that we fail to realize every choice leads to the same result: the dismantling of the social framework that defined and sustained the opportunity of the last century. National mobilization of resources has given way to radical individualism under a narrative that, in the wealthiest nation in the world, we must always expect less.

In this tumultuous time, we search for a way forward - a new Square Deal for the American people.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Broken System of Teacher Licensure

By law, teachers who want to teach in public schools must be licensed* in the states where they want to teach.  Licensure requirements vary by state, but they typically look something like this:
  1. The teacher must be qualified, meaning that he or she must:
    1. Have completed an approved in-state teacher preparation program; OR
    2. Have completed an out-of-state teacher preparation program substantially similar to the in-state program and submit coursework for review; OR
    3. Hold a current teaching license with no restrictions issued by another state with which the current state has a reciprocity agreement; OR
    4. Have substantially relevent coursework and experience sufficient as to substitute for a traditional teacher preparation program AND pass appropriate licensure exams;
  2. AND - the teacher must pass appropriate background checks, generally including:
    1. Full criminal history; and
    2. Health screening (usually a current tuberculosis test).
These are generally good requirements.  What is amazing about the process is that the offices responsible for issuign teaching licenses generally take 6-8 weeks to turn around an application.  This timeframe is amazing when one considers that the packages submitted typically must contain everything required or else will be returned as ineligible.  It's not that the people reviewing the packages actually do any investigation; they're just checking off boxes: graduated from teaching program, met test score threshold, no criminal record.

Nor is this preposterous turnaround time limited to the issuance of new licenses.  States afford themselves just as much time to do something like add a teaching endorsement -- that is, a new area of specialization -- even in cases where there is nothing required beyond the submission of a test score.  One score.  Check the box and print a new license; 6-8 weeks.

There's really no excuse for this delay, or for a dozen other things wrong with the process.  Why, for instance, does each school district need to get its own copy of FBI fingerprint results when the state already checked those results?  What is the point in the District of Columbia system, in particular, of requiring FBI background checks when the results of those checks are submitted by the applicants themselves (and thus completely untrustworthy)?  Why require a background check to add an endorsement when another background check will be needed to obtain a teaching position?  And on, and on.

All of this would doubtless have been swept away a long time ago and replaced with a streamlined system except for one thing: the complexity and delays inherent in the system serve as gatekeepers for the entrenched teachers.  Holding up licenses cuts down on competition for hiring and creates illusionary teacher shortages, while the people in the back office get to indulge their paper-pushing traditions instead of being forced into the twenty-first century.  (Hard-hitting former Chancellor of Schools Michelle Rhee commented regarding her tenure in D.C. that it was much harder to reform the bureaucracy than the schools themselves.)

We need to fix this system, nationwide.  The delays are hurting our schools, our children, and our future.

* Many people say "certified," and even some states use this term in their materials.  Strictly speaking, a certification is an optional enhancement, while a license is an absolute requirement without which work may not be done, so "licensed" is the proper term.  Licensing applies only to traditional public schools; private schools and public charter schools make their own rules and decide individually whether or not to require teaching licenses for their staff.


  1. That whole FBI finger printing is interesting, since the employer pays for it, it's done at a center and is sent to the employee when completed. I'm waiting for someone who's OK at photoshop to forge the document.

    1. You're thinking of the employment fingerprinting. D.C. doesn't use that for licensure. They require applicants to get individual/personal reports (e.g. LiveScan fingerprinting) and send in self-printed copies.