Licensure Reciprocity: California

Expanding the Pool of Teachers Policy


The state should help to make licenses fully portable among states for effective teachers, with appropriate safeguards.

Does not meet goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2015). Licensure Reciprocity: California results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from:

Analysis of California's policies

Teachers with comparable out-of-state certificates are eligible for California's Clear Teaching Credential. Those with two or more years of experience are required to have one of the following: 150 hours of professional activities, a master's degree or higher, or a bachelor's degree with a minimum of 150 semester units. Teachers must also earn an authorization to teach English learners as well as meet the state's subject-matter competence, meaning the out-of-state credential must correspond to a California subject area, or the candidate must complete 32 units of coursework in the California subject area. These out-of-state teachers must also submit proof verifying at least two "satisfactory" evaluations.

Teachers with fewer than two years of experience are also eligible for the state's clear credential if they complete the state's two-year induction program, in addition to earning an authorization to teach English learners and meeting the state's subject-matter competence. Also, those with National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Certification will be issued a clear credential for the corresponding subject area.

California is a participant in the NASDTEC Interstate Agreement, which outlines which other states' certificates will be accepted by the receiving state. This agreement is not a collection of two-way reciprocal acceptances, nor is it a guarantee that all certificates will be accepted by the receiving state, and it is therefore not included in this analysis.


Recommendations for California

Require evidence of effective teaching when determining eligibility for full certification.
To facilitate the movement of effective teachers between states, California should require that evidence of teacher effectiveness, as determined by an evaluation that includes objective measures of student growth, be considered for all out-of-state candidates. Such evidence should indeed be a factor for candidates who come from states that make student growth an important factor of a teacher evaluation (see "Evaluation of Effectiveness" analysis and recommendations). Although California now requires proof of "satisfactory" evaluations, the policy falls short of ensuring that evidence of effectiveness will be reflected in these evaluation scores. 

To uphold standards, require that teachers coming from other states meet testing requirements.
California should insist that out-of-state teachers meet its own testing requirements, and it should not provide any waivers of its teacher tests unless an applicant can provide evidence of a passing score under its own standards. By continuing to allow testing waivers, California cannot be assured that teachers who have passed assessments in other states have met comparable content knowledge expectations.

Offer a standard license to certified out-of-state teachers, absent unnecessary requirements. 
California should reconsider its requirement of a master's degree or excessive undergraduate coursework, for research has concluded that these requirements do not positively affect teacher effectiveness. The professional activities requirement is also burdensome and may deter talented out-of-state teachers from applying for certification in California. The state's induction requirement is not unreasonable for teachers with less experience; however, the decision about whether an out-of-state teacher needs additional support may best be left in the hands of school principals.

State response to our analysis

California was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis. The state added that it cannot require teachers who present a valid out-of-state credential to take California credentialing examinations, as recommended by NCTQ, as doing so would violate state law. Further, California does not require a master's degree or excessive undergraduate coursework for out-of-state teachers to receive a Clear credential. These approaches are only two of several different ways to meet the Clear credential requirements. There are several ways for an out-of-state prepared candidate to meet requirements for a Clear credential, including but not limited to a master's degree, or completion of 150 clock hours of documented professional activities, or several other options.

Research rationale

Evidence of effectiveness is far more important than transcript review.
In an attempt to ensure that teachers have the appropriate professional and subject-matter knowledge base when granting certification, states often review a teacher's college transcript, no matter how many years earlier a bachelor's degree was earned. A state certification specialist reviews the college transcript, looking for course titles that appear to match state requirements. If the right matches are not found, a teacher may be required to complete additional coursework before receiving standard licensure. This practice holds true even for experienced teachers who are trying to transfer from another state, regardless of experience or success level. The application of these often complex state rules results in unnecessary obstacles to hiring talented and experienced teachers. Little evidence indicates that reviewing a person's undergraduate coursework improves the quality of the teaching force or ensures that teachers have adequate knowledge.

New evaluation systems coming on line across the country which prioritize effectiveness and evidence of student learning offer an opportunity to bypass counterproductive efforts like transcript review and get to the heart of the matter:  is the out of state teacher seeking licensure in a new state an effective teacher? 

Testing requirements should be upheld, not waived.
While many states impose burdensome coursework requirements, they often fail to impose minimum standards on licensure tests. Instead, they offer waivers to veteran teachers transferring from other states, thereby failing to impose minimal standards of professional and subject-matter knowledge. In upholding licensure standards for out-of-state teachers, the state should be flexible in its processes but vigilant in its verification of adequate knowledge. Too many states have policies and practices that reverse these priorities, focusing diligently on comparison of transcripts to state documents while demonstrating little oversight of teachers' knowledge. If a state can verify that a teacher has taught successfully and has the required subject-matter and professional knowledge, its only concern should be ensuring that the teacher is familiar with the state's student learning standards.

States licensing out-of-state teachers should not differentiate between experienced teachers prepared in alternate routes and those prepared in traditional programs.
It is understandable that states are wary of accepting alternate route teachers from other states, since programs vary widely in quality. However, the same wide variety in quality can be found in traditional programs. If a teacher comes from another state with a standard license and can pass the state's licensure tests, whether the preparation was traditional or alternative should be irrelevant.

Licensure Reciprocity: Supporting Research
Many professions have gone further than teaching in encouraging interstate mobility. The requirements for attorneys, for example, are complicated, but often offer certain kinds of flexibility, such as allowing them to answer a small set of additional questions. See the Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admissions Requirements 2014, published by the National Conference of Bar Examiners and the American Bar Association, available at

On the similarity in effectiveness between graduates of traditional and alternative programs, see J. Constantine, D. Player, T. Silva, K. Hallgren, M. Grider, J. Deke, and E. Warner, An Evaluation of Teachers Trained Through Different Routes to Certification, Final Report. February 2009, U.S. Department of Education, NCEE 2009-4043. D. Boyd, P. Grossman, H. Lankford, S. Loeb, and J. Wyckoff, "How Changes in Entry Requirements Alter the Teacher Workforce and Affect Student Achievement." NBER Working Paper No. 11844, December 2005. T. Kane, J. Rockoff, and D. Staiger. "What Does Certification Tell Us About Teacher Effectiveness? Evidence from New York City." NBER Working Paper No.12155, April 2006. G. Henry, C. Thompson, K. Bastian, C. Fortner, D. Kershaw, K. Purtell, R. Zulli, A. Mabe, and A. Chapman, "Impacts of Teacher Preparation on Student Test Scores in North Carolina: Teacher Portals". The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Carolina Institute for Public Policy, 2010, 34p. Z. Xu, J. Hannaway, and C. Taylor, "Making a Difference?  The Effects of Teach for America in High School." The Urban Institute/Calder, Working Paper 17, April 2007.D. Boyd, P. Grossman, K. Hammerness. H. Lankford, S. Loeb, M. Ronfeldt, and J. Wyckoff, "Recruiting Effective Math Teachers: How Do Math Immersion Teachers Compare?: Evidence from New York City." NBER Working Paper No.16017, May 2010; as well as "How Changes in Entry Requirements Alter the Teacher Workforce and Affect Student Achievement," by D. Boyd, P. Grossman, H. Lankford, S. Loeb, and J. Wyckoff, NBER Working Paper No.11844, December 2005; and "The Effects of Teach For America on Students: Findings from a National Evaluation," by P. Decker, D. Mayer, and S. Glazerman, Mathematica Policy Research Inc., 2004.