The Covid-19 pandemic created innumerable disruptions to the education system. Among them were challenges faced by teacher candidates trying to complete licensure requirements. In response, those requirements got waived in many places. In a recent study, researchers from Boston University analyzed Massachusetts’s temporary easing of traditional certification requirements. Intended to prevent a teacher shortage during the pandemic, this policy seems to have succeeded in expanding the supply of interested and diverse individuals.
Almost every state requires teachers to pass at least one exam to obtain an initial or provisional teaching license. Prior to the pandemic, Massachusetts required prospective teachers to have both a bachelor’s degree and a passing score on the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTELs). However, in June 2020, the state made it possible for individuals who had not passed MTELS to receive emergency teaching licenses. Candidates who obtained such licenses could use them until June 2023, and could extend them an additional year if they were actively pursuing a standard license.
Using a combination of Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education administrative data, survey responses, interviews, and focus groups, the researchers analyzed the characteristics of the individuals who acquired the emergency license, how many candidates were hired, and whether they intended to remain in the teaching profession and obtain a permanent license.
Overall, 12,407 individuals received new licenses, a 13 percent increase in the number of individuals receiving licenses for the 2020–21 school year. 5,800 of those individuals obtained an emergency license. Teachers hired with an emergency license were more likely to be Black (13 percent) and Hispanic (12 percent) than those with non-emergency (initial or provisional) licenses. Finally, the overwhelming majority of individuals with an emergency license (86 percent) planned to stay in the teaching profession and obtain a non-emergency license (80 percent).
During the pandemic, individuals had an opportunity to enter the profession because of emergency teaching licenses. There are a variety of reasons why teachers are not passing the tests typically required. Forty percent of study respondents with an emergency license stated they could not pass one or more tests required to obtain an initial or provisional license. Nineteen percent of respondents indicated that the cost of the tests were too much of a financial burden. While the intended goal of the emergency licensing program was to find and maintain and find an immediate steady supply of teachers, further research ought to examine the differences in effectiveness between emergency license holders and traditionally licensed teachers is critical, especially after teacher shortages during and after the pandemic.
SOURCE: Andrew Bacher-Hicks et al., “Who becomes a teacher when entry requirements are reduced? An analysis of emergency licenses in Massachusetts,” Annenberg Institute (October 2023).