State school policy creates new alternative to teacher licensing

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah public schools can immediately start hiring people without classroom training as teachers if they hold a bachelor's degree and can demonstrate mastery of a course subject, among other requirements.

The Utah State Board of Education gave final approval to a new teacher licensing rule Friday despite criticism by veteran educators and education groups that prospective teachers who lack pedagogical training would negatively impact student learning.

But members of the State School Board have said the rule was intended to provide a more rigorous route to alternative certification and to help recruit new educators and address the profession's low retention rates.

The board made no changes to the rule, which allows it to go into effect immediately.

In related action, the board agreed to create a task force to study all educator licenses.

The rule, called the Academic Pathway to Teaching, becomes one of a variety of alternative licensure options currently used by school administrators in hiring nontraditional teachers. Once hired, they must undergo at least three years of supervision and mentoring from an experienced teacher as designated by the school. After that, education leaders can grant the person a teaching license.

Sydnee Dickson, who was sworn in earlier in the day as state superintendent of public instruction, said "times have changed" with respect to millennials' expectations about careers.

Instead of debating about licensure, Dickson said the conversation needs to be: "How do we prepare them well and support them once they enter the door?"

The status quo neither prepares nor retains teachers well, she said.

"It’s a challenging and messy time, but we really do have some amazing opportunities in thinking about how we work on retention and preparation," Dickson said.

Board member Dave Thomas shared the findings of academic research that compared teachers with alternative licensure to those who took the traditional avenue of teacher education programs followed by student teaching.

The scholarly research says "these type of alternative routes to licensure do not result in ineffective teaching. I think it’s important that we dispel that false narrative," Thomas said.


Traditionally, deans of colleges of education have been the "gatekeepers" of the teaching profession, he said. The new rule enhances local control by placing that authority in the hands of superintendents and directors of charter schools.

"They can determine what the pedagogical skills are and how those skills are obtained rather than the college deans. … We keep telling ourselves our principals and district superintendents, these are instructional leaders. At some point in time, if they truly are our instructional leaders, we have to allow them to be that," Thomas said.

The Academic Pathway to Teaching represents an “important and dramatic” shift in policy that is more closely aligned with legislation on alternative certification passed by the Utah Legislature more than a decade ago, Thomas said.

The rule allows school officials to hire prospective educators who have workforce experience in content area. However, teaching experience is not required. Applicants must have a bachelor's degree or higher in their field, submit college transcripts, pass Utah's test required for teacher certification and a background check, and complete an ethics review.


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