Teacher Certification & Licensure Research Paper Starter

Teacher Certification & Licensure

This article presents an overview of federal and state teacher certification and licensure, which have been an important part of teacher qualification since the early 1900s. Requirements for certification and licensure have widely varied since that time, along with how strictly these qualifications have been enforced, though a level of achieved education and teacher testing have consistently been its essential elements. In modern times, with the advent of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), teacher certification and licensure has received a lot of federal and state attention. This has led to an increasing number of requirements, including graduate degrees and extensive standardized teacher examinations, in order to become a "highly qualified" teacher. Though there are traditional and alternative means of achieving certification, and the requirements change from elementary to middle/high school grade levels, it remains important to hire and retain "highly qualified" teachers in school systems today.

Keywords Alternative Methods; Certification; Licensure; Social Efficiency; Social Mobility; Standardized Test; Teacher Education; Traditional Methods


Today, teacher certification occurs when a teacher candidate has fulfilled the federal and state requirements necessary to become a classroom teacher, through either traditional or alternative methods. In order to understand current policies and procedures, as well as the politics surrounding both, it is crucial to explore the historical foundations of teacher certification and licensure. From the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) of 1958, to the highly controversial No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), the United States has become increasingly concerned with education. This has had a direct effect on the requirements and methods of teacher certification. The government, however, has not always been so involved. Formal standards for teacher certification have developed slowly over the last four hundred years. Prior to the twentieth century, teachers had few requirements other than a basic level of education and the determination of an adequate moral character (Lucas, 1997). Certification began to become a component of teacher education, with three states gaining control over aspects of teacher licensure, in 1898. By 1900, half of the states required elementary teachers to pass a primary-level examination in the subjects they were to teach. This statistic remained steady into the 1920s, when more states began using testing to determine teacher efficiency. In 1923, the American Association of Teacher Colleges created nine standards for all teacher preparation programs, both those at normal schools and at the college level (Lucas, 1997). However, even though these early attempts at regulating the efficiency of teachers existed, they did not greatly affect teacher mobility. Teachers were generally able to find a job, regardless of whether they took or passed these tests (Lucas, 1997). Candidates for these positions were still too few for officials to enforce the existing teaching requirements. This would change as educational requirements increased and certification standards became stricter.

Historical Perspective

In addition, teacher education sought to give graduates mobility by enabling them to pass increasing standards for licensure. By 1937, thirty-two states required a year or more of college training, even for elementary teachers. The creation of the National Commission on Teacher Education in 1946 led to the birth of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) in 1954; an organization that has remained influential in evaluating the standards and practices of teacher education programs in modern times (Lucas, 1997). Receiving accreditation from the NCATE is an important aspect of a solid teacher education program, and graduation from a NCATE accredited program is a requirement for licensure in some states.

In addition to the NCATE, the NDEA (1958) was the beginning of the modern focus on legislation concerning education and teacher certification. It has been said that it arose from America's fears of inadequacy in the wake of the Russian launch of the Sputnik spacecraft in 1957 (Cohen-Vogel, 2005). The impetus behind this act was to better train teachers who would then better educate students to "compete globally and secure our nation's defenses" (Cohen-Vogel, 2005, p. 22).

The Higher Education Act of 1965 addressed possible teacher shortages with a focus on recruiting Peace Corps volunteers into an alternative teacher training program known as the Teacher Corps (Institute for Higher Education Policy, 2003). Other alternative programs were to follow. The Education Professional Development Act of 1967 stated the need for increased teacher training to acquire and improve teachers. The 1990s saw a focus develop around outcomes and accountability (Earley & Schneider, 1996), with two more amendments to the Higher Education Act, in 1992 and 1998. In 1992, the Higher Education Act developed alternative routes to teacher certification as a means of recruiting mid-career professionals into teaching careers. The 1998 version focused on the ways to measure teacher quality, concluding that performance on standardized tests would achieve this goal. The 1998 Higher Education Act is also important because these amendments to previous versions gave Congress more power over teacher preparation programs. It allowed the government to compare teacher test scores between institutions in order to gauge the effectiveness of specific teacher preparation programs. If students from an institution received low standardized test scores, then the institution could lose its funding, including state financial aid for its students (Institute for Higher Education Policy, 2003). This consequence is easily comparable to K-12 schools which lose their accreditation without adequate yearly progress (AYP), as determined by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

NCLB 2001

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) has greatly influenced national teacher certification and licensure requirements. The central focus of this act is accountability; schools must provide an education resulting in a standardized level of achievement for all students, as measured by state-wide standardized testing. Each state must determine "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) for each grade level and then test scores are held against the AYP to determine if schools are meeting the required goals. Part of this impetus of student progress is the requirement of school systems to employ a high percentage of teachers with "highly qualified" status, as determined by NCLB.

NCLB has defined highly qualified teachers as those who have "obtained full state certification as a teacher (including certification obtained through alternative routes to certification) or passed the state teacher licensing examination, and holds a license to teach in such state, except that when used with respect to any teacher teaching in a public charter school, the term means that the teacher meets the requirements set forth in the state's public charter school law; and (ii) the teacher has not had certification of licensure requirements waived on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis." (Title 1, section 9101). In general, this definition consists of three basic components:

• A bachelor's degree,

• Certification or licensure (as from a teacher test), and

• Knowledge/competence in the subject(s) taught (Rotherham & Mead, 2003).

Because of these requirements, there has been an increase in the number of alternative certification programs supported, evaluated, and funded by the government in an attempt to find and retain the most highly qualified teachers, especially for areas of extreme need, such as the sciences and special education.


Certification Requirements

Teacher certification and licensure is an ongoing process throughout a teacher's career. Once teachers receive their initial certification, they are considered to be a licensed teacher. In many states, initial or provisional certification is given first, followed by a specified number of years and/or continuing education courses/degrees in order to achieve a professional-level status. However, even once this higher status has been obtained, professional development activities are still required throughout a teacher's career in order to maintain licensure.

Competency Testing

Elementary and middle/high school levels each have their own requirements, which vary by state. In general, though all teachers are required to take a general competency exam, elementary teachers are mandated to take an additional exam that covers the variety of subjects taught in a primary classroom. Middle/high school teachers, who usually teach by subject, must take an additional test specific to the subject area(s) that they intend to teach. The Praxis series of tests are a widely used method of achieving certification and licensure. Praxis I and II measure basic academic skills and general and subject-specific knowledge, respectively. 44 states currently use the Praxis tests for licensure (Educational Testing Service, 2007). States that do not accept the Praxis, such as Massachusetts, have their own version of standardized teacher tests in general competency and subject-specific areas.

Meeting Educational Criteria

Besides competency testing, teacher candidates must meet other educational criteria. Usually, this takes the form of teacher education. However, modern teacher education has been widely criticized by researchers, participants, and...

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