Politics & Government

NC wants to make it easier to hire out-of-state teachers. But some fear it could become too easy.

A teacher writes the schedule for the day on her blackboard.
A teacher writes the schedule for the day on her blackboard. News & Observer file photo

A plan to make it easier for out-of-state teachers to work in North Carolina’s public schools is on hold amid concerns that it could water down the quality of the people who work in the state’s classrooms.

A state advisory committee recommended that North Carolina accept the licenses of out-of-state teachers who passed exams in their previous states, without making them go through additional steps such as passing North Carolina’s test.

But the State Board of Education delayed voting on that proposal Thursday. Instead, it ordered the state Department of Public Instruction to beef up staffing in the teacher licensure office.

State board members billed their request as a compromise that would help schools recruit more out-of-state teachers while also ensuring that the teachers who are licensed are of high quality.

“Recognizing that North Carolina is the ninth-largest state in the nation and will continue to grow population-wise, the need for rethinking licensure policies has come,” said state board member Olivia Oxendine.

Also Thursday, the state board voted to accept the use of a new math test for elementary school teachers trying to get their license to keep their jobs. Teachers will be able to use the Praxis CKT test, along with continuing to use the Pearson math test that some educators have struggled to pass.

North Carolina superintendents and principals are worried about getting enough teachers in the face of an aging workforce and less interest in college students to enter the profession. One option is to recruit more teachers from other states.

Currently, out-of-state teachers can get licensed in North Carolina without going through any additional hurdles if they passed licensure exams in other states that are identical to what this state uses.

State board policy also now says that a license will be granted if the out-of-state test is comparable to what North Carolina uses. But DPI staff say they don’t have the manpower to determine what’s comparable, resulting in these out-of-state teachers having to take North Carolina’s test.

“Schools are telling me we don’t have enough teachers, especially in elementary now to staff our schools and we’re putting obstacles in the way of experienced teachers who may be coming to us from another state,” Tom Tomberlin, DPI director of educator recruitment and support, told the state board on Wednesday.

The recommendation from the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission was to accept the licensure exams taken by out-of-state teachers. As part of the change, DPI suggested removing the wording from board policy about accepting comparable exams from other states.

But some state board members expressed worry that the PEPSC proposal would provide a way for teachers who couldn’t meet state standards to be hired.

“This is a really bad policy option,” board member J.B. Buxton said Wednesday. “I think we are pegging ourselves to the lowest states in the country with out-of-state teachers.”

To try to reassure the board, PEPSC suggested monitoring the performance of newly hired out-of-state teachers. If their results weren’t good enough then the commission would recommend not accepting the licensure exams from those states.

But that proposal still didn’t satisfy board members.

Amid the concerns, Oxendine suggested Thursday that DPI provide enough resources to the licensure office to make sure the out-of-state exams are comparable before granting a license. State Superintendent Mark Johnson will report back to the board on March 15.

“What I appreciate in Dr. Oxendine’s motion is the recognition of what superintendents seem to be asking for is let me assure out-of-state candidates that they’re not going to need to take another test if in fact they meet our standards,” Buxton said Thursday.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.