Utah Adopts Broader Teacher Licensing Rule Amid Record Teacher Shortage

Published September 5, 2016

Utah’s State Board of Education voted unanimously to approve a new alternative pathway for public school teachers to obtain a teaching license, eliminating a policy requiring candidates to take college-level teacher-training classes.

Utah’s Academic Pathway to Teaching program (APT) enables school administrators to hire people with at least a bachelor’s degree and have them earn their teaching license through three years of supervision and mentoring provided by a veteran teacher. Candidates must also pass a background check, an ethics exam, and a content-knowledge test in their subject area. 

Prior to the new rule, alternative certification was limited to the Alternative Routes to Licensure (ARL) program. ARL requires teachers to complete coursework in education from an accredited college or university within three years of being hired.

ABC4 News Utah reported in August the state’s teacher shortage is at an all-time high.

The state board initially approved APT in June. The Deseret News reports the board gave final approval to APT in August “despite criticism by veteran educators and education groups that prospective teachers who lack pedagogical training would negatively impact student learning.”

‘Missing Out’ on Good Teachers

Eric Wearne, an assistant professor at the Georgia Gwinnett College School of Education, says certification requirements often deter good candidates from entering the profession.

“The barriers to teaching are unnecessarily high,” Wearne said. “We are missing out on people who could be really successful teachers but don’t have the time or resources to put a hold on their career change to go to college again full-time or to go to school at night for years. Those high barriers don’t produce much better teachers on average. That’s not to say that some training in pedagogy doesn’t matter. It does. But official certification and sufficient training in pedagogy aren’t necessarily the same thing.”

Christine Cooke, a policy analyst for the Sutherland Institute’s Center for Educational Progress, says the ARL program restricts innovation.

“ARL basically sends somebody back to a college of education after they’ve been hired,” Cooke said. “I think it’s a little prohibitive. If somebody really wants to bring a new idea, expertise, or approach [to the classroom], they’d still have to go through the traditional training, which doesn’t leave a ton of room for innovations.”

‘Focus Should Be the Students’

Cooke says criticism of APT has come mostly from current teachers.

“The narratives opposing APT are very teacher-focused,” Cooke said. “This is demoralizing to me, and my response is, ‘Our focus should be the students, and how does this impact them?'”

Gives Districts ‘Total Control’

Utah State Board of Education member Laura Belnap says APT increases local control.

“[APT] provides the district schools and charters one more tool in their toolbox to hire good educators,” Belnap said. “It puts total control at the district level.

“Our state needs to revamp the entire licensing and endorsement program,” Belnap said. “I’d like to see higher education make some changes as well. It’s a long, tedious process to become a teacher.”

Ashley Bateman ([email protected]) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.

Internet Info:

Paul E. Peterson and Daniel Nadler, “What Happens When States Have Genuine Alternative Certifications?” Education Next, October 1, 2009: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/what-happens-when-states-have-genuine-alternative-certifications?source=policybot