Following the teacher strikes in a number of states earlier this year, a great deal of attention has been paid to teacher compensation. But one of the underappreciated points of the conversation is that, in a great many states, they simply can’t afford to hire more teachers or pay the ones they have more.
Part of this is due to aggressive tax cuts that failed to produce the economic growth necessary to make up for the revenue shortfall. Another important (and little discussed) component is the high cost of teacher pension and other retirement benefits.
Of course, licensing laws also have a role to play–they increase the pay of existing teachers by reducing supply. Mississippi is taking steps to address this by creating a pilot program to streamline the licensing requirements for some teachers:
Mississippi is moving forward with a proposal that would allow more than 100 teachers to obtain certification on a performance-based licensure system.
The pilot program, first announced at a September state Board of Education meeting, is a pivot from Mississippi’s current requirements for [licensure] and illuminates how pronounced the state’s regional teacher shortages have become…
Jean Cook, a spokeswoman with the Mississippi Department of Education, told the Clarion Ledger on Nov. 8 that “licensure exams are not a factor for performance-based (licensure).” She added that a separate pilot program, a teacher residency initiative, launched by the department would mandate that candidates pass all required licensure exams.
The article uses the term “certification” and “licensing” interchangeably, but Mississippi requires teachers to be licensed in order to practice their trade.
Of course, there is predictable opposition to the reform based on concern over teacher quality:
Still, [Elizabeth Ross of the National Council on Teacher Quality] expressed there are some risks with doing away with licensure tests that can serve as a “guardrail” on the front end, noting that students who are the most vulnerable are the most likely to be taught by uncertified teachers.
Ross’ concerns echo the findings of a 2016 [Mississippi Department of Education] report showing students in high-minority and high-poverty districts are disproportionately taught by teachers who are not highly qualified.
Like all arguments in favor of licensure based on concerns for quality, the unstated and unsupported assumption is that licensure protects quality. The literature on the topic begs to differ.
More stringent licensing laws deter higher-quality teachers from entering the profession, and less-restrictive licensing options tend to attract more qualified candidates. Another study have found no improvements in quality of prospective teachers from barriers created by testing. While it is certainly true that low-income school districts are more likely to have lower-quality teachers, the benefits of licensing only materialize for higher-income school districts.