The state should close loopholes that allow teachers who have not met licensure requirements to continue teaching.
Alaska does not require subject-matter testing for new teachers. The state's initial license only requires candidates to have a passing score on a basic skills test. The state's current certification system allows new teachers to delay passing a subject-matter test for three years.
The state does require that teachers receive passing scores on the Praxis II to obtain a professional teaching certificate, which a teacher may obtain after three years of teaching.
4 AAC 12.305; 4 AAC 04.210
Award standard licenses to teachers only after they have passed all required subject-matter licensing tests.
All students are entitled to teachers who know the subject matter they are teaching. Permitting individuals who have not yet passed state licensing tests to teach neglects the needs of students, instead extending personal consideration to adults who may not be able to meet minimal state standards. Licensing tests are an important minimum benchmark in the profession, and states that allow teachers to postpone passing these tests are abandoning one of the basic responsibilities of licensure. As such, Alaska should require all teachers to pass subject-matter tests prior to entering the classroom. The state's current policy puts students at risk.
Alaska noted that it requires teachers to be highly qualified in the core academic subject areas in which they provide instruction regardless of level of certification (Initial, Professional, Master) or endorsement area. Highly qualified designation is not included on the teaching certificate as an endorsement.
Alaska asserted that state regulations require all districts to ensure that a teacher employed by the district is highly qualified. Highly qualified status is tied directly to the core academic subject being taught by the educator. Depending on the teacher's core academic subject areas, he or she would need highly qualified designation. By regulations, the teacher would have the following options for gaining highly qualified status:
1) Passing the appropriate high school subject area Praxis II exam,
2) Having a bachelor's or graduate degree in the subject area, or
3) Completing 30 semester hours or 45 quarter hours in the subject area from a regionally accredited college.
Districts are required by regulations to track highly qualified status of their teachers and report this to the Department of Education each October.
Alaska takes a significant risk by relying on federal HQT provisions rather than articulating in its own certification requirements that teachers must demonstrate subject-matter knowledge. The state is putting the burden on districts to ensure that their teachers are HQT instead of making this part of licensure. In addition, while a degree in a subject area is certainly indicative of knowledge of that area, it offers no assurance that an individual has studied the specific content he or she will be required to teach.
Teachers who have not passed licensing subject-matter tests place students at risk.
While states may need a regulatory basis for filling classroom positions with a few people who do not hold full teaching credentials, many of the regulations permitting this put the instructional needs of children at risk, often year after year. For example, schools can make liberal use of provisional certificates or waivers provided by the state if they fill classroom positions with instructors who have completed a teacher preparation program but have not passed their state licensing tests. These allowances are permitted for up to three years in some states. The unfortunate consequence is that students' needs are neglected in an effort to extend personal consideration to adults who cannot meet minimal state standards.
While some flexibility may be necessary because licensing tests are not always administered with the needed frequency, the availability of provisional certificates and waivers year after year signals that even the state does not put much value on its licensing standards or what they represent. States accordingly need to ensure that all persons given full charge of children's learning are required to pass the relevant licensing tests in their first year of teaching, ideally before they enter the classroom. Licensing tests are an important minimum benchmark in the profession, and states that allow teachers to postpone passing these tests are abandoning one of the basic responsibilities of licensure.
Extended Emergency Licenses: Supporting Research
Research has shown that "the difference in student performance in a single academic year from having a good as opposed to a bad teacher can be more than one full year of standardized achievement." See E. Hanushek, "The Trade-Off between Child Quantity and Quality," The Journal of Political Economy, Volume 100, No. 1, February 1992, pp. 84-117. Hanushek has also found that highly effective teachers can improve future student earnings by more than $400,000, assuming a class of 20. "The Economic Value of Higher Teacher Quality", National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 16606, December 2010.