Barriers to online teaching across state lines

The Keeping Pace research team is developing the first of a new set of policy briefs that we will be releasing in the coming months. These will represent the first Keeping Pace research that is released as a document separate from the annual report or the website. The first of these briefs examines issues related to 21stcentury teachers who wish to reach students in multiple states. This and two subsequent blog posts (post 2 here) are based on the draft report. Among the ways in which states attempt to ensure quality in K-12 education is by requiring that most teachers in public schools be licensed. (Whether or not teacher licensing is in fact increasing quality of outcomes is a separate question that the policy brief does not address.) Teacher licensing has a long history that extends over the past century. Initially schools created their own guidelines for teaching requirements, and then in the first half of the 20th century states created state-level requirements – although each state was, and remains, different. The differences vary; they may be in the basic requirements that teachers must meet, such as required classes or the number of hours, or in the type of license.

This patchwork of requirements has not been a problem for most teachers over the last century, because so few teachers taught in multiple states concurrently. Mechanisms to allow experienced teachers to gain a license in a new state (sometimes temporarily until obtaining a permanent license) were created by many states for teachers who moved across state lines. In addition, many states created alternative licensing mechanisms for professionals with subject-area expertise who wished to switch careers and teach in public schools.

Neither of these mechanisms is sufficient, however, for a new kind of 21st century professional—those who are teaching online and therefore able to reach students in multiple states concurrently. These teachers, who may work for public organizations (e.g. Florida Virtual School), non-profit organizations (e.g. The Virtual High School), or companies (e.g. Connections or K12 Inc.) often must go through a laborious and time-consuming process to become licensed in each of the states in which their students reside. Although the employers may be able to assist teachers in gaining licenses in multiple states, much of the burden falls to the teachers.

Some policymakers believe that mechanisms exist for such teachers in the form of alternative teacher certifications, national certifications, or reciprocity in licensing between states. Our research shows, however, that none of these is sufficient to significantly lower the barriers. Reciprocity agreements vary between states, and are often not mutual (e.g., State A accepts teachers from State B, but State B does not accept teachers from State A without additional requirements). They may also be only partial or temporary, i.e. participants may be required to complete additional coursework, assessments, or classroom experience in order to receive a full professional certificate in another state.

Alternative certification paths are also usually temporary, intended as a bridge to the regular licensing that the state requires. The national certifications such as the American Board for Certification of Teaching Success and the National Board Certification, in most cases complement and do not replace state licenses.

Policymakers who are not deeply aware of the ways in which alternative certifications and teacher reciprocity work in multiple states often believe that one or more of those options make teaching across state lines easy. As described above, none of these approaches is in fact a viable solution

An upcoming blog post will explore a possible solution.

We welcome your thoughts on all blog posts, but especially on this one as the policy brief is still in development. Please comment below or email me at