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K12 leaders see flexibility in alternative credentialing

SHORTAGE SOLUTION?—The Vail School District in Arizona has taken advantage of a new state law that allows it to hire instructors who have expertise in certain fields but who don’t have traditional teaching credentials.
SHORTAGE SOLUTION?—The Vail School District in Arizona has taken advantage of a new state law that allows it to hire instructors who have expertise in certain fields but who don’t have traditional teaching credentials.

Fourteen teachers in Utah’s Ogden School District reached the classroom via a nontraditional, perhaps looser route. Rather than attend a teaching college and earning the standard credentials, they leveraged their bachelor’s degrees and professional expertise.

The new state rule that allows this—called Academic Pathway to Teaching—mimics new policies a handful of other states have passed or are considering to cope with a nationwide teacher shortage.

Ogden Superintendent Rich Nye says he supports the change because it has brought new educators with new perspectives to his classrooms, but he notes it hasn’t solved the wider problem.

“What this has done is provide people with another avenue to come into the profession,” Nye says. “What it hasn’t done to any significant degree is address the teacher shortage.”

Utah districts must provide these alternative-credential teachers with mentoring, classroom management training and pedagogical PD. The teacher must then begin the process of getting a traditional license.

“It helps an individual who has a disposition toward teaching, perhaps as a second career, but who doesn’t want to go back to college,” Nye says.

The salary solution

Michigan and South Carolina this year both approved a different kind of alternative credentialing program. The states allow teachers to start working while gaining certification online through a national nonprofit company called Teachers of Tomorrow.

David Crim, a spokesman for the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, calls the new path a “pseudo-certification route.”

“Reducing the qualifications to become a certified teacher is yet another avenue to deprofessionalizing the teaching profession,” Crim says.

The solution to the shortage is for K12 administrators to persuade lawmakers to fully fund public education, says Crim, noting enrollments are down at his state’s teaching colleges.

“The best and the brightest in our colleges and universities are not looking at teaching because they can’t support families and can’t rely on a decent package of benefits and a pension like they used to,” he says.

No complaints

Arizona in May 2017 passed an alternative credential law similar to Utah’s policy. Superintendent Calvin Baker of the Vail School District has used it to fill many vacant positions with students’ parents, some of whom had already been serving as substitutes.

“These are people we already knew,” Baker says. “And they already knew what our system was, and were committed to it.”

The district’s new teachers have come from a variety of fields, including engineering, health care and the military.

The program has been successful for Vail because it has a track record of academic success, a structured district-wide curriculum and rigorous coaching for new teachers, Baker says. And though the state teachers union opposed the law, Vail hasn’t seen any pushback closer to home.

“I have not received a single phone call or email from a parent saying ‘Why don’t I have a fully certified teacher in my classroom?’” he says. “As long as the quality is there, that’s the issue that parents care about.”