The pandemic's lesson on teacher licensure
You shouldn't need to jump through pointless hoops to get in the classroom
The American K-12 school system is expansive, with millions of students attending thousands of schools. And one of the great frustrations of education policy research is that while many interventions appear to be highly effective at small scale, they almost all flop when implemented at the scale that would actually move the needle for the country as a whole. The very existence of this scaling problem suggests that one promising avenue for change is to look at things we are already doing that don’t seem to work, because we could simply stop doing those things.
Suppose America hired only right-handed teachers, but then it turned out that lefties teach just as well.
Repealing the ban on left-handed teachers would be a large-scale intervention that works. Not an intervention that revolutionizes education, but one that makes it a bit easier for principals around the country to fill vacancies without compromising on quality.
Of course, in reality, the United States doesn’t do anything as blatantly stupid as banning left-handed people from teaching in public schools. But emergency measures adopted in many states to recruit additional teachers during the pandemic provide further evidence for something many analysts have long believed: Many of the current teacher training and licensing requirements have no real benefits, and getting rid of a lot of them would save time and money for various stakeholders and expand the potential supply of teachers, without reducing quality. That doesn’t on its own make schools better, but it does make it easier to do basically anything else, including raising teacher quality, cutting class size, or reallocating money to other priorities like climate control, air quality, and school meals.
The great pandemic experiment
Schooling during the pandemic remains a fraught topic, one that has been the subject of a lot of discussion. But I’m mostly going to yadda yadda past that for today’s post.
When Massachusetts shut down schools in March of 2020, they also shut down the pipeline of new teachers. Licensure tests didn’t happen that spring, trainee-teachers didn’t have classrooms to work in. So in June, Massachusetts authorized an “emergency” teaching license to let people who had not completed the standard licensure requirements get jobs on the basis of their bachelor’s degree. But the rule did say that anyone licensed on an emergency basis would have to loop back and complete standard licensure once the emergency had passed.
This provided an opportunity to study how the emergency licensed teachers performed relative to those with standard licenses, and the results, I think, should shock some people.