Rethinking Relicensure: Promoting Professional Learning Through Teacher Licensure Policies

Policy Paper
Aug. 15, 2018

Nearly every state requires teachers to periodically “renew” their licenses in order to continue working in public schools. Only 11 states explicitly state the purpose of relicensure, and renewal requirements vary by state. But the vast majority require teachers to engage in some form of professional development (PD), which suggests that states intend for the relicensure process to encourage and verify ongoing professional learning and growth. Do states' current licensure renewal policies accomplish this objective?

To answer this question, New America examined the requirements and processes for teacher relicensure in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, exploring how particular elements impede or encourage meaningful professional growth.

The resulting report, Rethinking Relicensure: Promoting Professional Learning Through Teacher Licensure Renewal Policies, finds that the policies undergirding most states’ licensure renewal system actually conflict with what is known about best practices in adult learning. That is, the policies do little to promote active learning opportunities that are explicitly relevant to teachers’ professional responsibilities and/or areas of developmental need, are sustained over time, and which allow for interaction and input from other educators.

What’s more, the report finds that “whether a teacher grows considerably while fulfilling her state’s renewal requirements or does not improve at all is of no consequence under most renewal systems. As long as teachers earn the requisite number of [continuing education credits] through approved activities…, they will qualify for renewal without having to demonstrate what new skills or knowledge they have acquired or how they plan to apply it to advance student learning.”

The problem is not lack of investment in PD. Recent research estimates that large districts spend roughly $18,000 on PD per teacher each year, in addition to the money teachers spend out of their own pockets for continuing education. As such, states are squandering a great opportunity to use the relicensure process to promote professional learning that improves students’ educational experiences and outcomes.

A few states have recognized this missed opportunity and are trying to implement a more competency-based approach to PD as part of licensure renewal, including the incorporation of “professional growth plans.” Rethinking Relicensure surfaces promising practices and potential pitfalls in these forward-looking states, and provides five overarching recommendations for replacing current compliance-oriented relicensure systems with models that attempt to assess the impact of professional development. The report also provides further considerations for states looking to implement these recommendations, and for those considering micro-credentials as one alternative.

A Data Supplement, capturing all of the data collected, by state, and an Executive Summary are available in addition to the full report.

 Rethinking Relicensure-Final Version  Rethinking Relicensure Executive Summary  Rethinking Relicensure Data Supplement
Related Topics
Innovation in Education Credentialing Evaluation Systems Teachers and Leaders