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Innovation and flexibility is critical to teacher licensing

by Elsie Arntzen
| March 8, 2022 12:00 AM

Throughout my tenure as your Montana State Superintendent, I have consistently discussed and evaluated the need to recruit and retain quality teachers in our Montana public schools. Unprecedented pressures and intensified mandates have severely impacted the teacher role. As a former teacher, I empathize with the 16,305 licensed and paraprofessional educators in our Montana schools. Flexibility is demanded to recruit, retain, and support Montana teachers.

In 2020, the number of unfilled classrooms challenged by lack of recruiting teachers had increased from 353 to 599. In the current Critical Educator Report, vacancies increased by 19% for areas such as math and special education. In the past five years, unlicensed teachers through emergency authorizations have risen 90%.

In the 2021- 2022 school year, teacher license renewals and new endorsements resulted in a new low of 5,204, continuing a five-year downward trend. New teacher licenses are the highest in five years with 1,646 new licenses. This is attributed to 40% of the applications coming from out-of-state teachers. Our Montana-Made teachers, coming from our 10 Montana teacher preparations programs, have shown a decline of 21.47% since the 2015-2016 school year.

On Jan. 13, I introduced flexible and innovative licensing recommendations to the Board of Public Education. These recommendations were developed with Montanan’s voices and input to provide an innovative and successful path for existing and future teachers.

My recommendations to teacher shortages are multifaceted and include:

Alternative teacher preparation pathways;

Increased access for expired licenses to reenter the classroom;

Flexibility of initial license competencies through testing, portfolios, or verified GPA

Acceptance of lifetime licenses;

Increase Career and Technical educators by accepting diverse degrees, allowing associate degrees, and work experience equivalencies;

Allowing School counselors to pursue administrative licenses;

Providing license reciprocity from other states for military spouses and dependents;

Recognizing licenses for nationally board-certified teachers;

Read more about my proposed comprehensive changes to teacher licensing rules.

Public comment is open for the licensing rule recommendations, please send comments to bpe@mt.gov.

I have also created the Montana Teacher Residency Demonstration Project. This first-of-its-kind undergraduate program in Montana will help recruit, prepare, support, and retain K-12 teachers. This innovative new Montana-grow-our-own teacher preparation will provide a stipend for a full year of in-classroom experience, possible district-provided housing, and teacher leader coaching to ensure student success. Resident teachers will commit to teaching in a Montana high-needs school district for a minimum of two years.

The Office of Public Instruction has sponsored three virtual job fairs for teacher candidates. Candidates are recruited from Montana first, then nationally and internationally. The rollout of the new Montana digital licensing system will efficiently link teachers and school districts while also connecting professional development and mentorship to aid in the retention of Montana teachers.

We must look to the future to support and encourage teachers while alleviating the burden our Montana teachers have faced. I would also like to thank all the legislators who worked to pass the TEACH Act, giving our new teachers a higher starting salary. The flexibilities I have laid out go hand in hand with the TEACH Act, encouraging new and current teachers to fill classrooms in Montana. All solutions for hiring, growing, and maintaining the highest quality educators must be on the table as we put Montana students first.

Elsie Arntzen is serving her second term as Montana’s State Superintendent.

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