New Study: Stringent Occupational Licensing Hinders Teacher Mobility, but not Out-of-State Teacher Quality

The Effect of Occupational Licensing Stringency on the Teacher Quality Distribution,” a recent study sponsored by the National Bureau of Economic Research, finds stricter licensing laws diminish teacher mobility but does not meaningfully affect the quality of teachers coming from other states. The study’s findings may be particularly illuminating for states with teacher shortages, where improving pathways for out-of-state teacher licensure recognition can be useful strategy to increase teacher mobility without harming public welfare.

The study additionally found that increasing the stringency of teacher licensing, especially through more rigorous academic coursework, for in-state candidates can discourage lower quality teachers but does not affect the overall average teacher quality. The increased stringency does not disproportionality affect high-poverty districts or teacher candidate diversity either.  

This study analyzed 37 distinct dimensions of teacher certification, accounting for changes over the time period 1991 to 2007, with a sample of 26,280 teachers. Teacher quality was measured primarily on the competitiveness of the undergraduate institutions where they completed a bachelor’s degree. From the data, teacher in-migration (or specifically, teachers who taught in a different state last year) was found to be 2%. When licensing stringency increases by one standard deviation, it cuts this already very low number in half, dropping from 2% to 1%. This suggests a significant challenge for states to address in order to attract more teachers.

Hindered teacher mobility can contribute to teacher shortages seen across the U.S. States having trouble finding teachers within their borders may be able to attract workers from other states. However, differing state licensing processes may deter teachers from investing time in going through a process they have already completed.

Teaching is an especially interesting profession to study the effects of licensure on mobility due to the substantial variance in state-regulated licensing processes. The requirements diverge depending on the student age group and content area, further complicating teacher mobility. For example, Arizona uniquely requires all teachers applying for licensure to take coursework on the Arizona and U.S. Constitutions. These often complicated and cumbersome structures, as well as pension concerns, make it very difficult for teachers to transfer a license across state lines and therefore such transitions are very rare.

Despite these issues, many states worry that more lenient licensing laws could lead to diminished public benefits by affecting the quality of incoming teachers. This question encompasses what is often the core debate when it comes to occupational licensing policy: balancing public protection with the resulting economic burden of regulation. This study, however, provides evidence that for the teaching profession, the quality of services provided are not diminished when schools hire out-of-state teachers.

Some states have worked to make it easier for teachers to move across states, such as the 47 states that have joined the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) Interstate Agreement. However, this Agreement only standardizes two requirements: earning a bachelor’s degree and completing an educator preparation program. Other developments include the recognition of National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certification as a pathway for licensure in 32 states – though the effectiveness of this is unclear considering the rigorous process of National Board certification alone. For example, the process is burdensome, often taking between one and three years and costing the applicant around $1,975.

For more information on teacher licensure mobility, CSG recently published a white paper, “The State of Teacher Licensure and Mobility,” covering the inconsistencies in the licensing processes across states, including state-specific assessment and coursework requirements. CSG also facilitated a teacher licensure webinar series to foster a productive conversation among policymakers, researchers and teachers about the best practices for constructing licensing processes that attract teachers. The series include sessions on the importance, barriers, and logistics of interstate mobility for teacher licensure.