Some questions:

How are states responding to teacher shortages?

Has the end of "highly qualified" been an invitation to states to lower standards?

What is at risk for the field of special education?

Washington Update, October 20, 2017


Dear Colleagues:

This is a special issue of Washington Update on the theme of Entrance to the Profession: Innovation or Lowering Standards? Let me know what is happening in your state!

Entrance to the Profession: Innovation or Lowering Standards?

In the last few weeks, I have increasingly encountered news of states "reforming" entry paths to become a teacher, generally motivated by addressing critical teacher shortages, with special education at the forefront. I put "reforming" in quotes because I am not quite sure of the implication.

I don't have the answers, but I think the questions are important. Some policy context is offered below and some examples of some state "reforms" in process.

Federal Policy Context - NCLB and ESSA

With the enactment of the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015 came the elimination of the 13 year old federal requirement for teachers to be "highly qualified" that was part of No Child Left Behind. While that requirement was controversial, and reinterpreted through amendments a number of times, it did require that teachers meet a sufficient level of content knowledge , hold at least a BA and have full state certification. In addition, it codified alternate routes to teaching allowing participants to serve as the teacher of record for up to three years so long as they were enrolled in a preparation program leading to full certification and receiving ongoing high-quality professional development and supervision. With these federal requirements removed, all decision making about determining readiness to enter the profession rests with the state. There is no longer a federal floor for content knowledge, nor a federal requirement for those pursuing alternate routes to be enrolled in programs that lead to full certification or receive ongoing professional development and supervision. The "highly qualified" provision was replaced by state authority to determine the credentials of teachers. Certification is the portal for entry and this is where many states are experimenting with new provisions.


Federal Policy Context - IDEA

When ESSA was enacted and it eliminated the "highly qualified" provision, it also amended IDEA to eliminate the term "highly qualified;" however, the new provisions in IDEA which define requirements for special education teachers are not the same as those in ESSA. For one, in IDEA special education teachers must have a BA. No such requirement exists in ESSA. In addition, special education teachers must have:

Thus when a special education teacher enters the classroom through an alternate route, the previous requirements of NCLB apply, in particular the teacher must be receiving high-quality professional development, intensive supervision, assume the functions of a teacher for no more than 3 years and be progressing toward full certification.

In addition, IDEA references "qualified personnel" a number of times. How these new provisions interact with that concept, is a consideration for further analysis.

See: See:

Teacher Shortages

Teacher shortages across the country have been growing over the last few years. The Learning Policy Institute has researched shortages and their causes extensively and notes the following:


For a list of state by state shortage areas see:

Examples of Certification "Reform" from States


An Alabama State School Board resolution allows districts to hire adjunct teachers - people who are not certified - to work up to half time. Details of the provision include:


The Connecticut State Board of Education is considering pairing back certification requirements and creating new alternate pathways. Areas of focus are bilingual, math, science and special education.


Responding to an audit that described the current certification system as broken, Minnesota has adopted a new four tier certification system which will take effect next summer. A key feature related to the shortages below:

New York


In response to the teacher shortage:

West Virginia

West Virginia has proposed changes to reduce some licensing requirements, in part to address shortages. The proposal was out for public comment which ended October 10 and final action is pending. The proposal includes:


Also in response to the shortage, Wisconsin has slipped a provision into its state budget proposal that would fund the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE) as an alternative route option. Superintendent of Education Evers is opposed to the provision. ABCTE is a low-cost online fast track program for those who have a Bachelor's degree. ABCTE is controversial and has been challenged as lacking in efficacy.

In my next look at this issue I'll highlight some promising and innovative practices to strengthen the profession, address shortages and expand diversity in the profession simultaneously.

I look forward to hearing from you! Let me know what is happening in your state!

Keep those tweets coming at @janewestdc


Jane E. West Ph.D.
Education Policy Consultant
Cell: 202.812.9096
Twitter: @janewestdc

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