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Wonks Want to Know: Will Colorado Figure Out the Teacher Licensure Connection?

Guess I should be thankful that the big education issue being talked up for next year’s legislative session is teacher licensure. (It was supposed to be last year, but kind of got lost in the shuffle with that whole Senate Bill 213 debate.)

As it usually goes with such things, there’s been a group meeting called the LEAD Compact Working Group. Their job is to come up with recommendations for legislators on how Colorado can make the licensure system work better, especially now that we are launching a system that evaluates teachers based on effectiveness. But as Ed News Colorado reports, there’s the rub:

Nearing the end of its work, the group that is studying possible changes to Colorado’s teacher licensing requirements remains undecided on a key issue – whether or how to connect license renewal to teacher evaluation.

There are plenty of complicated details, no doubt, but making that connection seems kind of basic. Licensure is one of the key areas where Colorado thus far has fallen short, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality’s recent “Connecting the Dots” report.

Another report, this one from the New Teacher Project in 2012, stands at the root of Colorado’s licensure reform effort. The report seeks to lead education to reach a larger pool of qualified applicants while making the process more selective to weed out ineffective practitioners at the front end. It also makes the credible point that meeting performance standards should help automatically renew a teacher’s license, rather than making her jump through extra hoops. Sensible, no?

Meanwhile, another group is meeting in Colorado to take on the issue. Shawn Bailey, member of the Teacher Licensing Committee — sponsored by PACE, the fast-growing non-union teacher groupoffers some policy ideas the Working Group should consider:

  1. Creating an apprenticeship or residency at the beginning of one’s teaching career;
  2. Ensuring that our mentor teachers are carefully selected, held to high standards, and given the time necessary to be effective trainers; and
  3. Requiring teachers to prove their effectiveness before they are able to teach on their own.

Then there’s CU-Denver Professor Paul Teske, who warmed my little heart by bringing the late, great Dr. Milton Friedman into the licensure debate. Teske looks at Friedman’s three-tiered framework of government intervention in the professional marketplace, and offers some very thoughtful pointers that lead us to the brink of asking: Why exactly do we need teacher licenses?

The more I think about this issue, the more my head spins in a violent circular motion. But since the system Colorado has now is flawed, artificially limiting the number of quality instructors and not ensuring all instructors are adequately competent and prepared, something has to be done.

Let’s hope they can figure it all out before I’m back here again a year from now wondering what Colorado policymakers are going to do about teacher licensure.