TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

A new tool for teacher policy change: the gavel

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"It should not take this long."

A simple sentiment, but one that likely resonates with almost any teacher who has ever moved to a new state only to then engage in a head-spinning exercise to receive the state's permission to practice. 

Interviewed in EdWeek, Michelle Hughes knows about her state's "reciprocity" labyrinth. She's among 10 teachers who sued the Minnesota Board of Teaching in April, arguing that out-of-state teachers are required to jump through many confusing hoops before they can be licensed in the North Star State.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of Minnesota's new law designed to streamline the out-of-state teacher licensure process. Teachers in the lawsuit want to cement the change in Minnesota's reciprocity statutes because the state has passed legislative reform before that hasn't fixed the problem.

Minnesota's changes—both legislative and those being discussed in court—are a step in the right direction, but enough of these baby steps. There is still much more the state can do.
In fact, while we've seen a lot of action around teacher evaluations and other personnel policies, licensure reciprocity remains a neglected problem across the country—with states generally showing a remarkable hostility to teachers who try to transfer a license from another locale. 

Only six states (Alabama, New York, Texas, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming) have reciprocity rules with no strings attached, meaning there are no cumbersome mandates requiring out-of-state teachers to complete additional coursework or to have taught a certain number of years within a recent time period. Of those states, only two—Texas and West Virginia—treat out-of-state teachers equally regardless of whether they trained in traditional or alternative teacher prep programs.

Considering the fact that several states are facing worsening shortages in specific areas (i.e., STEM, English Language Learners and rural districts), you'd think more would be focused on how to get effective teachers from out-of-state through their reciprocity red tape and into the classroom.

Lawsuits like this one are a practice to watch. While public education is no stranger to the courtroom, it increasingly seems as though critics of teacher policies are not settling for legislative or regulatory action as the only pathways for change. Last year, Vergara v. California made huge waves when a trial court ruled that the state's teacher policies failed kids. Since then, others are proposing bypassing state legislatures to move similar policy changes through state courts.

Is the licensure reciprocity case in Minnesota a signal that broader teacher quality policy, beyond tenure and layoffs, could get increased judicial scrutiny? Perhaps just the threat will spark action from the more traditional teacher policy makers.