Utah to Allow Schools to Hire Unlicensed Teachers

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August 15, 2016, Washington Post

Critics of shortened teacher training—the outcomes of which have been dicey at best—will likely be alarmed by a new Utah initiative approved by the state board of education in June. The state’s school districts and charter schools may now hire teachers without any teacher training at all.

This policy was created to recruit non-teachers into education and fill Utah’s public school vacancies—a tough task, as Utah’s Office of Education says that 42 percent of new teachers quit within their first five years, while enrollment has increased by nearly 10 percent. The state Office of Education has made clear its intention to analyze the causes of the profession’s high turnover with the help of external researchers. Some teachers say that the reasons behind teachers leaving are no mystery, with low pay and high-stakes testing placing stress on those in an already stressful profession.

The new licensing route, called the Academic Pathway to Teaching, allows any individual with a bachelor’s degree who passes the state’s content knowledge test to receive a teaching license valid for three years. Upon hiring, the new teacher must be mentored by a veteran teacher, complete a support program, and teach for three years before upgrading his or her teaching license.

Utah isn’t the only state to recruit non-teaching professionals into public schools; nearly every state offers some type of non-traditional pathway to licensure. In Ohio, for example, a bachelor’s degree–holder can earn the state’s Alternative Resident Educator license, which allows a new teacher to teach specific subjects under a temporary license, after passing a test, earning 25 hours of field experience and completing an academic training course. New York offers a temporary license after a 200 clock-hour course, two certification tests and 40 field hours.

Utah’s temporary license differs from these alternate pathways in that it requires no pedagogical coursework or field hours prior to placement in the classroom. However, the state isn’t alone in allowing unlicensed teachers their own classes. Since JanuaryAlabama has allowed for the hiring of “adjunct” teachers with a high school degree or higher, and no teacher training. Kansas ruled earlier this summer to allow unlicensed teachers to be recruited by six high-need school districts, but seems to be keeping the scope of that ruling fairly small.

An analysis of the new Utah rule by the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss points out that these state initiatives would have failed to fulfill the “highly qualified teachers” requirement of 2001’s No Child Left Behind law, which required all active teachers to hold a bachelor’s degree and state certification. A later ruling from the U.S. Department of Education declared that the “highly qualified” moniker could be applied to trainees in state alternative licensure programs, including alternative programs like Teach for America.

When the Every Student Succeeds Act replaced NCLB last year (which takes full effect in the 2017–18 school year), the “highly qualified” requirement was dropped completely and was replaced by a requirement that teachers meet “the applicable State certification and licensure requirements.” It’s likely that those state requirements will raise more questions in cases such as Utah’s.—Lauren Karch