The movement to modify licensing requirements for public schoolteachers is coming to Indiana. It’s about time. Last week, Indiana’s top education official, Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, released a summary of priorities for the upcoming year. She listed “flexibility in teacher licensing” near the top. Evidence from states that have implemented similar reforms suggests it makes it easier for schools to hire qualified teachers. In fact, it can increase the pool of qualified applicants as much as 5 percent.
One concern is that shifting standards might reduce teacher quality. However, there is no evidence of this occurring in other states. School boards and superintendents keep existing hiring safeguards in place. Any school perceived to hire incompetent teachers loses both reputation and enrollment. There’s no more reason to worry that good schools suddenly start hiring bad teachers than there is being fearful of highly rated Uber drivers because they don’t have a taxi license. The parents and children consuming education will benefit from more teachers in the same way consumers benefit from more Uber drivers.
Ironically, policymakers have hit upon a good solution to a somewhat misdiagnosed problem. A convincing study by our colleague Mike Hicks here at Ball State University indicates there is no overall teacher shortage in Indiana. The decline in teachers employed at public schools has roughly matched the decline in enrollment. Meanwhile, teacher’s colleges are cranking out plenty of new grads.
The actual problem is teachers specializing in subjects that are not in demand. Economists call this a “skills mismatch,” and the problem plagues our entire economy, not just K-12 education. Schools find it hard to attract and retain qualified teachers for special education and STEM areas: science, technology, engineering and math. Meanwhile 16,000 licensed teachers in Indiana, generally with other specializations (think history and English), are working at jobs outside teaching, usually at lower pay. So allowing schools to issue emergency licenses or waive licensing requirements in high-demand areas will help them attract and retain the qualified teachers they lack.
Indiana’s Department of Education should investigate other remedies as well. Schools should be more flexible in offering higher pay to teachers in high-demand subject areas. Also, while student enrollment and teachers employed at public schools decreased from 2010 to 2014, the number of administrators increased 3.7 percent per year. Resources spent on unnecessary administrators are better spent on things that directly help students, such as higher salaries for teachers in high-demand areas.•
Bohanon and Curott are professors of economics at Ball State University. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.