SD6 - Virginia Teacher Licensure Policy: Biases and Barriers to Diversifying the Workforce (SJR 15, 2020)

Executive Summary:

In 2017, the Task Force on Diversifying Virginia’s Educator Pipeline noted the growing shortage of effective educators entering and remaining in the profession as well as particular barriers to entry for teachers of color. In 2018, Virginia Workforce data shared at the Teacher Retention Summit indicated significantly higher attrition rates of teachers of color than white teachers. These trends are of particular concern in Virginia, where the population has, and will continue to, become increasingly diverse. As a follow up to this prior work, the current study examined barriers preventing teachers of color from entering the profession. Specifically, through an examination of teacher licensure polices and regulations in Virginia, we asked: what might yield higher attrition rates of teachers of color when moving from probationary to continuing contract status, as well as provisional to full/professional licensure? In other words, we sought to explore biases and barriers in the teacher pipeline, interrogating these challenges through new policy lenses.

We found barriers that exist at both the recruitment or entry stage and critical retention stage, such as years three to five, when teachers move from probationary to continuing contract status or provisional to professional licensure status. A multi-pronged approach across the General Assembly, Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), and school divisions is needed to reduce bias in Virginia’s teacher licensure policy and, ultimately, diversify the teacher workforce. We recommend the following policy and process actions to reduce six identified barriers to entering and remaining in the profession:

Barrier 1: Potential Bias in Teacher Evaluations

• Invest in a statewide technical support center that assists local education agencies (LEAs) to conduct analyses of school- and LEA-based minority teacher recruitment and retention and antibias training.

• Pursue transparent policy language to avoid unclear language in teacher evaluation guidelines that lead to multiple interpretations and inconsistencies in how teachers are evaluated by school or district-level supervisors.

Barrier 2: Potential Bias in Supervision Requirements

• Fully fund the Standards of Quality (SOQs) to include the establishment of a unit within the VDOE to develop guidelines for teacher leadership and mentorship programs, as well as a statewide principal mentoring program.

• As noted in Barrier 1, pursue transparent policy language to avoid unclear language in teacher evaluation guidelines that lead to multiple interpretations and inconsistencies in how teachers are evaluated by school or district-level supervisors.

Barrier 3: Use of Subjective Language

• Reevaluate and revise subjective policy language in specific regulations like The Licensure Regulations for School Personnel or The Regulations Governing the Review and Approval of Education Programs, which contain language such as “moral character" or “professionalism" that can potentially impact marginalized populations.

• Develop a task force to combat bias and subjectivity and to address reported incidents manifested through biased evaluative policies

Barrier 4: Disparities in Opportunities

• Expand financial benefits:

o Eliminate the gap between the average Virginia worker’s salary and teachers’ salaries by increasing teacher salaries over the next three years.

o Expand Virginia Teaching Scholarship Loan Program (VTSLP) and support other service scholarship and loan forgiveness programs to cover or reimburse a portion of tuition costs in exchange for teaching commitment (5 years)

o Establish a Teacher of Color Education Scholarship of Virginia (TCES-VA) program to increase the number of minority teachers in Virginia to better reflect the state’s diverse population

o Connect National Board Certification to Schools Serving Students of Color: Teachers who work in historically underserved schools are more likely to be teachers of color. To recruit and retain them, the state should designate funds for additional annual bonuses for those teachers who hold National Board Certification and work in these buildings.

• Expand the line item in the General Assembly to fund teacher residency programs: Providing stipends and tuition support to prospective teachers creates opportunities for teachers of color to receive stronger teacher preparation while reducing the financial burden, creating greater teacher retention and effectiveness once they complete their programs.

• Create guidelines for a statewide comprehensive teacher induction model for all teachers in years one through three. Teacher induction models should be jointly funded by the state and LEAs.

• Create sustainable working conditions: To better retain all teachers, but particularly teachers of color who serve in schools with greater student and staffing needs, a long-term strategy to improve working conditions is necessary. These recommendations include:

o Examine educational environments or school working conditions, the unique work demands, work responsibilities (formal and informal), and workload manageability of teachers of color

o Establish an average teaching time of 60% of the total contract hours;

o Establish average teaching percentage targets that correspond to the career ladder/teaching experience;

o Reduce the student-to-teacher ratio;

o Eliminate the support staff cap to provide greater instructional and behavioral support to teachers of record; and

o Provide racial justice-oriented professional development to support teachers of color

Barrier 5: Bias in Licensure Assessments

• The Virginia Board of Education (VBOE) should evaluate the existing assessment requirements for licensure, and act to eliminate those that are not absolutely essential, align assessment requirements with skills and competencies of high-quality teaching, and provide candidates multiple types of assessment opportunities to demonstrate their skills (Recommended by the Advisory Committee on Teacher Shortages, 2017).

o In addition, the VBOE should reevaluate assessment passing scores recently raised and disproportionately impacting Black and Hispanic candidates (such as the VCLA).

o Given that the VDOE may grant exceptions to recommended teachers who failed to pass licensure exams, we recommend that the VBOE consider alternate options to assess teacher performance, specifically, classroom-based teaching assessments as alternative options to current licensure assessments as a singular approach.

o Expand funding to pay for licensure exam costs currently paid by teacher candidates of color enrolled in teacher preparation programs and by provisionally licensed teachers of color

o Expand programs like the "Competitive Grant for Praxis and Virginia Communication and Literacy Assessment Assistance to Support Diversity Among Provisionally Licensed Teachers Seeking Full Licensure in Virginia" program to cover testing costs for all teachers of color.

Barrier 6: Challenges in Communication and Processing

• Create a clear and streamlined licensure website that clarifies what requirements are needed based on the route to licensure and endorsement(s) sought. This reduces the disproportionate impact of inaccessible information on prospective teachers of color who may not have a personal or professional network able to provide this information.

• Create an online licensure application portal that integrates all forms and payment information, reducing the possibility of delayed mail, user error, and submission of outdated documents.

o Within this portal, teachers should be able to track professional development points earned and additional credentialing/endorsement options.

o The portal should have sharing/sending options for EPP or division leadership to review and approve documents before the VDOE review process.

• Improve language around "comparable" requirements and what specific endorsements are required when out of state teachers apply for positions in Virginia, but hold endorsements that are not comparable at the subject area or grade level. Virginia offers a number of comparable endorsements, but all may not translate when out-of-state candidates apply for positions in Virginia.

• Invest in implementation capacity to provide technical support to local divisions, provide clear guidance, ongoing training, and oversight to ensure divisions follow consistent processing guidelines and are adequately supported:

o Increase VDOE Licensure Office staffing to reduce the amount of time between submission and notification of licensure application status.

o Invest in a statewide technical support center that strengthens and supports a diverse teacher pipeline and career ladder (e.g.- minority teacher leadership preparation, mentoring, coaching, and advanced/ leadership credentialing supports). This support should also assist LEAs develop innovative grow-your-own programs, EPP-LEA-VDOE partnerships, and analysis of school- and LEA-based minority teacher recruitment and retention.

• Develop specific policy guidance to support recruitment and retention of teachers of color:

o Create an adaptive data system to track teachers’ licensure status; and

o Develop performance metrics to achieve workforce diversity goals, as well as accountability for LEAs.