Teaching online across state lines

We are thrilled to release the first in an expected series of reports that allow us to dig deeper into some of the issues presented in Keeping Pace each year. In earlier blog posts (here, here, and here) we discussed the policy brief we have been developing that explores the issues teachers face when trying to become licensed to teach in multiple states. Teaching Across State Lines, which proposes a policy solution that would allow licensed teachers to more easily teach in multiple states, while augmenting online teacher skills. States require that teachers be licensed in each state in which they teach. This patchwork set of licensing requirements has not been a problem for most teachers over the last century, because so few teachers taught in multiple states at the same time. Mechanisms to allow experienced teachers to gain a license in a new state were created by each state for teachers who permanently 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, non-profit organizations, or companies, 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.

Our research demonstrates that reciprocity and alternative licensing methods are not sufficient to significantly lower the barriers of teaching concurrently in multiple states. Reciprocity agreements vary between states, and are often not mutual. They may also be only partial or temporary.

The report proposes a solution, in which online teachers would be licensed to teach in multiple states if they meet both of the following requirements:

  • Demonstrate that they are licensed and highly qualified in any state, and
  • Demonstrate expertise in teaching online via either of two methods:

—    They have taken and passed a professional development course in teaching online offered by an approved provider, which includes a course specific to teaching in an online environment offered by universities, regional education agencies, or national providers of accredited programs; or

—    They have successfully taught in an accredited online program for at least three years.

The creation of an online teacher specialization raises the bar for teachers who are licensed in another state by requiring that teachers meet these conditions if they wish to teach in multiple states concurrently. It preserves the approach to teaching online used by many individual school districts without imposing any new mandates. Licensed teachers in a single district may then shift to teaching online with no additional state-created requirements.

All licensed teachers who complete this approach would receive a specialization in online teaching, making them authorized to teach any student in any of the states that have approved the specialization.

We look forward to hearing your comments.