Preparing and Licensing Effective Teachers


Effective teachers and principals are essential to improving student learning. Effectiveness can be cultivated through preparation programs that purposefully train principals and teachers to teach today’s higher standards to today’s digital learners in urban, suburban and rural classrooms. The challenges confronting educator preparation programs are abundant: they must provide their students with expertise about the subject they teach, a knowledge of deeper learning strategies, the ability to teach students at different levels, an understanding of how to use data to identify both excelling and struggling students, and the skills needed to use the latest technology in the classroom to create new avenues of access and understanding for every student. Preparing teachers and principals to meet these challenges is no small feat.  

Teacher at the blackboardEvery state licenses or certifies teacher to ensure that all students are taught by a competent, qualified, effective teacher, similar to the process used in other professions. In most states, candidates can apply for their initial license only upon completion of an approved preparation program. Other states allow candidates to be licensed without preparation or upon enrollment in a program. The best licensing systems balance openness with rigor; ideally, they allow approval of the maximum number of candidates who are prepared to successfully teach and lead in public schools.  This balance can be difficult to maintain, especially as states seek to fill a growing number of vacancies.

For more information on this topic, visit NCSL’s Legislator’s Guide to Educator Effectiveness Policies.

Questions for Legislators to Ask Regarding Teacher Preparation

As legislators consider policies to improve preparation of effective teachers, they may want to seek answers to the following questions to gain a deeper understanding of state policies and practice.

  • Does your state require national accreditation for preparation programs to receive program approval?  
  • How do your state’s teaching standards compare to those of other states?
  • How do your state cut scores for pre-service assessments compare to those of other states?
  • Do your school districts report that local preparation programs are meeting their needs for effective teachers, particularly in hard-to-staff schools or subjects? 
  • Are preparation programs meeting the education workforce needs in your state?
  • Do your preparation programs partner with rural and urban districts or individual schools?
  • Does your state data system track where teachers are prepared?
  • Does your state data system track the placement or success of preparation program graduates?
  • Does your state have alternative preparation programs?  Are they statewide programs or sponsored by local districts?
  • Does your state hold alternative preparation programs accountable to the same standards for success as traditional programs?
  • How does your state requirement for clinical hours compare to that of other states?
  • Does your state require a performance assessment for preparation program completion, program approval or initial licensure?
  • Is information on the quality of your state’s teacher preparation programs made readily available to potential candidates?

State Policy Options to Improve Teacher Preparation

The following policy options are among those states are considering to help state legislators improve preparation of effective teachers.

  • Request an inventory of your state teacher preparation policy and evaluate whether those policies are achieving your desired results.
  • Review current research—or request research if none exists—on where educators in your state’s schools are being prepared.
  • Strengthen state program approval and reporting requirements to ensure that preparation programs are graduating successful teachers and do not approve programs that fail to adequately prepare candidates to teach in your state.
  • Ensure that your data system can track not only where licensed teachers are prepared, but also where graduates of preparation programs are placed and employed and that such data is made available to the programs for program improvement.
  • Ensure that all preparation programs are held to the same high standards and accountability expectations.
  • Consider tying preparation programs to valid and reliable measures of effectiveness.
  • Provide clear data on the relative quality of educator preparation programs to potential candidates.
  • Create incentives for teacher preparation programs to actively recruit and prepare candidates for teacher shortage areas.
  • Require an evaluation of alternative preparation programs at both the state and local levels to determine if they are producing desired results.
  • Adopt a valid and reliable pre-service performance assessment for program completion, program approval or initial licensure.  

Questions for Legislators to Ask Regarding Licensure

As legislators consider policies to license teachers, they may want to seek answers to the following questions to gain a deeper understanding of state policies and practices.

  • What assessments and requirements does your state use to determine if licensure is appropriate for teacher candidates?  Is it an online subject-matter assessment or a performance assessment of a candidate’s actually teaching ability?  Do the assessments and requirements provide sufficient confidence in the capacity of the educator to effectively instruct in or lead schools?
  • Does your state require that candidates prepared in alternative programs pass the same assessment and meet the same standards?
  • Does your state use InTASC standards as a model for state standards?
  • Do your state standards require teachers to demonstrate their ability to teach more demanding content and critical skills to a diverse range of students?
  • What is your state’s process for teacher licensure?  Is your process rigorous enough to ensure effectiveness, yet open enough to recruit enough candidates to meet your education workforce needs?
  • Does your state ensure that those with previous criminal offenses against children cannot become licensed educators?
  • Does your state recognize National Board certification?  Do you offer incentives for this certification?  Does your state require or offer incentives to  those who receive this certification to teach where they are most neededin low-performing schools or as mentors or master teachers?

State Policy Options on Licensure

The following policy options are among those states are considering for state licensure of teachers and principals.

  • Adopt rigorous teaching and principal standards, perhaps basing them entirely or partially on the InTASC standards.
  • Use classroom and school-based rigorous performance assessments to ensure that teacher candidates meet your standards and are well-prepared for today’s classrooms.
  • Require all candidates, regardless of where and how they are prepared, to pass state performance assessments that require demonstration of the knowledge and skills needed to advance student learning. 
  • Establish a rigorous initial licensure process, requiring fingerprinting and criminal background checks to ensure student safety.
  • Establish a rigorous continuing licensure process to show both continued ability to teach successfully and continued professional growth.
  • Establish a tiered licensure system in which educators attain higher levels of licensure based on participation in ongoing, high-quality professional development; obtaining National Board certification; and assuming additional professional responsibilities, such as serving as a mentor or master teacher.
  • Offer incentives for those teachers to apply skills acquired through the National Board certification process to teach in low-performing schools or to serve as master teachers or mentors.

Additional Resources

NCSL Resources

Other Resources