TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

Meeting the moment with measurement: Massachusetts’ lessons from emergency teacher licensure

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We're probably all familiar with the saying that in every crisis lies an opportunity. As states quickly shifted requirements for teacher licensure in the early days of the pandemic, some also saw an opportunity to learn from the responses they put in place. One such state is Massachusetts, studying the effects of their emergency teacher licensure system.

A new report out of the Wheelock Educational Policy Center analyzes the emergency teacher license policy Massachusetts invoked at the outset of the pandemic, when candidates couldn't take licensure tests because testing centers had closed their doors. For an entire cohort of aspiring teachers, the path into the classroom stopped short.

The emergency license allowed candidates to teach so long as they earned a bachelor's degree. Candidates could postpone completing teacher preparation programs and passing licensure tests; initially this postponement was for one year, but the first round of emergency licenses can now be extended through June 2024 as long as teachers are "making progress" toward earning a license.. And the state invited researchers to track the results.

Many of the findings were promising. More people earned licenses (whether emergency, provisional, or initial) in 2021 than at any point in the last 10 years. The people earning emergency licensure, and those being hired under emergency licenses, were more racially diverse than teachers earning or being hired with initial or provisional licenses. Retention rates were similar regardless of licensure type (with turnover not quite two percentage points higher for teachers on emergency licenses).

Although not everything was rosy. Only about half of emergency-licensed teachers were employed by fall of 2021, compared with 62% of teachers with initial licenses. Survey data revealed that teachers with emergency certifications had the impression that their licenses were viewed less favorably by districts.

This study is the first foray into evaluating the outcomes of emergency licenses - and is the type of analysis that more states should take on. One problem with the report is that the data are lagging, as it only examines outcomes through fall 2021. And there are important remaining questions that the researchers can tackle next:

  1. How do student outcomes differ by teachers' license type? Are teachers with emergency licenses as effective, and are their evaluation ratings comparable?
  2. Which students are taught by teachers with different license types? While this study looks at differences by district and urbanicity, it sidesteps the critical issue of whether students of color or students living in poverty are more likely to have emergency-certified teachers.
  3. Many emergency-certified teachers report that they intend to pursue full licenses. How many are successful, and how are teacher prep programs supporting their former candidates in this process? The state may want to look to Texas's experiences as a cautionary (and informative) tale.
  4. And finally, early retention rates looked good, but what happens over the long term? Did this system usher in more career teachers, or merely build a revolving door? And what are the demographics of the teachers who stayed or left?