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A new law and proposed rules for licensing Arkansas’ kindergarten-through-12th-grade teachers feature an “education career continuum” to enable teachers to “lead without leaving,” or advance professionally while continuing to teach.

What is now a standard, five-year renewable state-issued teaching license in a subject or content area would, after Jan. 1, 2019, be reconfigured into four types of licenses, according to proposed rules to support Act 294 and other related acts from the 2017 legislative session.

Those four licenses would be the early career professional educator license; the career professional educator license; the lead professional educator license; and the master professional educator license.

Teachers would be able to move from one tier or classification of license to another based on years of teaching experience, proven effectiveness as a teacher and other criteria that are still to be determined, according to the draft rules that are wending their way through the state’s approval process.

“To me what it does is it incentivizes and it recognizes that educators are career professionals,” Ivy Pfeffer, Arkansas Department of Education deputy commissioner, said about the career continuum. “This gives teachers opportunities to celebrate successes and celebrate accomplishments in recognized ways.

“And by having these recognized tiers, it also opens opportunities for school districts to use their teachers differently,” Pfeffer said. “A school district knows, ‘Hey, I’ve got these people and they have demonstrated, and they have evidence, that they are leaders or they have been recognized on a state or national level. They are models for others.’”

Just as it sounds, the early career professional educator license would be a first-time, standard license. It could be renewed or become a jumping-off point for other licenses.

The career professional license would be awarded to teacher applicants who not only have three years of experience but also can show that they are effective, as defined by Arkansas’ plan for complying with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, and have a strong commitment to the teaching profession.

The lead professional educator license would be available to those who aspire to leadership while continuing classroom work. That leadership component might entail conducting training sessions with the staff, mentoring, or participating in committee decisions regarding the school or district. Three years of teaching and a show of effectiveness are again prerequisites to achieving professional educator licensure, along with demonstrating competency in leadership.

The master professional educator license holder would be recognized as a high achiever in the field who elevates the profession and makes contributions to it beyond the school level, the proposed rules say. Three years of experience, proven effectiveness and criteria still to be determined are prerequisites for the license.

Schools would have to verify that a teacher is effective, Pfeffer said, adding that there would be an appeal process established for teachers whose districts won’t verify their effectiveness.

Additionally, Pfeffer said, a teacher leader advisory group is working with the Arkansas Education Department and the department’s Professional Licensure Standards Board to develop the evidence-based criteria for qualifying for the various licenses.

Those criteria won’t be part of the rules but will be subject to state Board of Education approval before they are applied.

Cathy Koehler, president of the Arkansas Education Association — the state’s largest teacher union — said the eligibility criteria for the different licenses could make or break the new system.

“We understand that the proposed tiered-licensure system was developed with the goal of providing a way for educators to advance their careers without having to leave the classroom to become educational administrators,” Koehler said. “We support this idea but believe the draft rules as written leave many open questions and could have unintended consequences.

“We have concerns over how tiered licensure will be operationalized in a fair manner that ensures integrity and equity in the process,” she said.

Members of the state Board of Education also had questions about the criteria at a recent presentation on the proposed rules.

“There is not clarity about what qualifies you into a tier,” board member Susan Chambers of Bella Vista said, adding that if salaries are differentiated based on the licenses, there could be problems.

The state law allows, but does not mandate, that teacher salaries vary by license. Any variation would be a decision made by the local school districts.

“Those criteria will have to be very clear and evidence-based,” Pfeffer responded. “That is what the teacher leader advisory group is working toward developing. We are not not talking about homemade-type things. We are talking about the definitive and recognizable,” such as certification by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards.

“That is tangible evidence that you have achieved a certain accomplishment,” Pfeffer said about the national certification.

Jay Barth of Little Rock, chairman of the Education Board, had reservations about the perception that a lead professional educator license would be superior to a career professional license. Schools need both kinds of teachers, he said.

“Some folks take on a leadership role in addition to teaching and some folks are teaching their hearts out every day,” Barth said. “I wish those could be seen as two equally important paths.”

Barth also said that it would be empowering to teachers “to have some choice about their careers rather than being pushed along.”

Cheryl Reinhart, the state Education Department’s director of educator licensure, said drafters of the rules see the two kinds of licenses as being as Barth described.

“They are equally important,” Reinhart said, suggesting that it be emphasized by dropping the word “tier” in listing the tier 1-4 types of licenses.

The proposed rules on the career educator continuum are part of a comprehensive, seven-chapter set of draft rules on all aspects of teacher preparation and licensure. The proposed rules address emergency, provisional and ancillary licensure as well as lifetime licenses and career technical permits. Adding endorsements or new areas of certification to an existing teacher license, licensing for administrators, application fees for licensure and substitute-teaching requirements are other topics included in the rules.

The Department of Education already has solicited public comment on the rules and is now reviewing comments before submitting the rules for approval to the state Board of Education and the Arkansas Legislative Council.

However, if substantive changes are made in the draft rules as a result of the recent public comment period, the changed rules must go back to Gov. Asa Hutchinson for his approval and back out for 30 days of public review before they go to the Education Board and the Legislative Council for finalization.

The Arkansas Department of Education Rules for Governing Education Licensure are posted under the “Must Read” title and “Rules” link on the department’s website:

Schools would have to verify that a teacher is effective, Pfeffer said, adding that there would be an appeal process established for teachers whose districts won’t verify their effectiveness.

Print Headline: 4-tiered teacher license proposed for ’19 start

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  • arkateacher54
    November 20, 2017 at 7:10 a.m.

    How bout we license the parents? If they had to jump through he hoops teachers do, maybe they would send better-prepared kids to school.

  • digorm
    November 20, 2017 at 7:40 a.m.

    Why, as a subscriber that already pays way more than the downsized paper is worth, do I have to go through these "survey" hoops to read every item I click on. Come on folks,

  • Infinitewell
    November 20, 2017 at 8:19 a.m.

    What you may not know is that one of the proposed changes mentioned in the last paragraphs would allow schools to license teachers themselves, without going through quality training or even standard training that higher ed programs provide. This is a dangerous turn if approved. If you know someone on the board, I would implore you to make contact and ask why this seems like a good idea to them.

  • TimberTopper
    November 20, 2017 at 8:47 a.m.

    Maybe they just need to leave it alone. I'd expect there's a hidden agenda somewhere.

  • MaxCady
    November 20, 2017 at 1:15 p.m.

    I'm with arkateacher54, my wife is a nationally board certified, master degree'd teacher. It just blows my mind when she tells me all the things she is required to do to accommodate all the special snowflakes and their helicopter parents. All the while making sure nobody's feelings get hurt! And still she has to maintain her credentials and competency requirements throughout the year! If she was a baby sitter she'd be making over $150K a year!