Staff Editorial

Reform licensing to promote diversity among Iowa's teachers

On Thursday, Feb. 14, Lincoln Elementary students crowded the gym for their 19th annual Jump Rope for Heart event.
On Thursday, Feb. 14, Lincoln Elementary students crowded the gym for their 19th annual Jump Rope for Heart event.

School administrators and education advocates across Iowa are concerned that teaching faculties don’t reflect the student bodies they serve.

Iowa is growing more diverse across many demographic measures, and our children are leading the way. Iowa’s teachers, however, remain overwhelmingly white, mostly women and often from middle-class backgrounds.

That’s a problem, because experts consistently report students are less likely to excel academically if they aren’t exposed to professionals who look like them, putting boys and young people of color at a disadvantage.

One barrier to recruiting diverse faculty members is the fact Iowa requires all teachers must meet specific state standards, potentially forcing out-of-state candidates to undergo additional coursework before they can teach. Some school districts are asking the Iowa Legislature to consider authorizing licensure reciprocity so they can more easily recruit personnel from other states, the Quad-City Times reported this month.

“While we try to figure out how to work through the situation we have, we’d love to recruit teachers and administrators from out of state,” Kingsley Botchway, equity chief at the Waterloo Community School District, told the Times.

There is a growing national movement to rethink the licensing and registration rules state governments impose on working people, including for educators.

In 2015, the White House published a report on professional licensure, encouraging state governments to eliminate overly restrictive rules. The report included an analysis of relevant research about the impact of teacher licensing on test scores and teacher qualifications.

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Of six academic studies about teacher licensure reviewed by the Obama administration, four found no effect of licensing requirements and another found unclear effects. Just one study — about stricter licensing requirements in high-income school districts — found a link between increased educational quality and licensure.

No one in Iowa is advocating to eliminate teacher licensing altogether, but this research makes clear that educational quality can be maintained without burdensome requirements.

This is just one piece of the movement to recruit more diverse, high-quality pools of candidates for Iowa teaching jobs.

The “grow your own” campaigns Cedar Rapids and other urban school districts are working on — which focus on engaging and retaining Iowa students who plan to work in education — are vital.

Policymakers also must realize licensure reform is no substitute for adequate education funding. Schools need money to attract the best teachers.

Done correctly, licensing reform will play an important part in enriching Iowa’s schools.

Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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