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Voices: What teachers are saying about licensure

Tim Farmer, policy director for the Professional Association of Colorado Educators, outlines what PACE is hearing teachers say about how they think licensure should be reformed.

As the conversation about revamping the way that Colorado licenses teachers is gaining momentum, the Professional Association of Colorado Educators (PACE) believes it is important to ensure that teachers have a prominent voice in the proposed changes.

Teachers have gone through the process of licensure, and they continue to go through the process of renewal, which gives them a first-hand understanding of the pros and cons of the current licensure system. Their recommendations on the topic are crucial.

As always, PACE does not take a stance on an issue without consulting our members and ensuring they agree with any proposed policy changes. On our 2013 State Policy Survey, we asked our members several questions about licensure, and we think it is important to share the perspective of these educators.

Simplifying the initial licensure process at the state level

The overwhelming majority of teachers surveyed agreed that the current way that Colorado issues teaching licenses is unnecessarily complicated and does not promote good teaching or help schools bring the best teachers into the classroom. When asked, 73 percent of teachers supported the idea of simplifying the licensure process by simply requiring, at the state level, a background check, bachelor’s degree, and a passing score on a content area exam.

This straight-forward process at the state level recognizes the diverse needs of diverse school districts, and would empower each district to determine which barriers to entry are valuable to them. It would also recognize the transient society that we live in when teachers come here from other states; especially with several military installations in our state. Having an uncomplicated process at the state level will allow local districts the flexibility to build a unique process that fits their needs, without the state tying their hands.

This problem was highlighted by a second grade teacher in Falcon School District who responded, “I am certified in two areas in three states. It took me four years to finalize my teaching credentials in this state and cost me several hundred dollars. This process was very difficult to navigate and frustrating…I know several qualified teachers that are not working for school districts in this state due to the complication of getting a license.”

Improving the process for licensure renewal of effective teachers

Receiving even more support on the survey was the need to improve the process for licensure renewal. Of those surveyed, 88 percent support the idea of automatically renewing the license of a teacher that consistently receives effective evaluation ratings. The current renewal system requires paperwork, tracking professional development hours, and applications and fees – whether you are effective or not. Only 12 percent of those surveyed agree that professional development hours completed, the current measurement for renewal, should be given the most weight.

Continuing with the theme that the system is unduly burdensome, an elementary math teacher from Thompson School District wrote, “I know a number of highly qualified and effective teachers who are not teaching in Colorado because of the difficulty of obtaining and maintaining a teaching license. One of them spent 20 years as an astrophysicist for NASA…he teachers at the local college, but is not allowed to teach at the high school!”

Teachers that are performing effectively in the classroom should not be burdened with bureaucracy. If teachers are effective, it should not cost them time or money to continue practicing their craft.

Continuing the conversation

While surveys are a definite step in the right direction for getting the voice of classroom teachers more involved in policy, PACE recognizes that this provides a limited glimpse of the thoughts and suggestions of teachers. To this end, PACE is bringing together a committee of teachers to look deeper at the current system of licensure in Colorado and discuss new policies, ideas, and proposals. This committee will then prepare a set of recommendations for policy makers to consider as they contemplate changing the licensure system.

Teachers are speaking, and we encourage policy makers to listen to what they are saying.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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