Mar 04 2022

Preparing Wisconsin Teachers

Research and Recommendations for Licensure and Program Approval

In recent years, expectations for schools and for educators have been on the rise. Research on the science of learning and development (SoLD) has been advancing rapidly. Calls have been growing to provide all students with deeper learning experiences that will prepare them for the increasing demands of life and work in the 21st century. These calls have been accompanied by an increasing awareness of long-standing gaps in opportunities, resources, and achievement for students of color and students from low-income families and of the failure of previous reform efforts to eliminate these gaps. Meeting rising expectations for schools will require the realignment of educational systems to ensure students can access high-quality learning that incorporates SoLD-aligned practices that encompass the cognitive, sociocultural, and social and emotional aspects of learning and development.

In any such systemic transformation, teachers must play a vital role. Teachers’ methods, qualifications, and levels of experience affect students’ academic achievement, well-being, and opportunities to learn. Teachers’ preparation for the job also matters. Strong preparation has been linked to increased teacher effectiveness and retention. Improving schooling will require it to become stronger still. As the Committee on Teacher Education of the National Academy of Education framed the issue, if systemic reforms are to take place, “teachers will need to be prepared to be a part of this change process.”

This report, one of a series of state policy studies produced by the Learning Policy Institute in collaboration with the Council of Chief State School Officers, examines teacher licensure and preparation program approval systems in Wisconsin. This study was designed to assess how these systems are advancing the preparation of a stable, diverse, well-qualified, and equitably distributed teacher workforce in the state to support all students’ deeper learning and social, emotional, and academic development.

Recommendations

Wisconsin’s reputation for quality and innovation in education and in teacher licensure and preparation program approval stands uneasily alongside serious and ongoing achievement gaps, teacher shortages, and disparities in access to fully qualified and experienced educators. Driven by simultaneous concerns about teacher supply and teacher quality, the state has undertaken significant changes to both licensure and program approval systems in recent years. While these changes have encompassed a variety of purposes, on balance they have eased professional requirements for teachers, though both licensure and program approval have retained some of their fundamental standards- and performance-based structures. While some of the added flexibility in these systems could be employed to expand and diversify the teacher workforce, the state’s reform efforts have also opened up possibilities for uneven program and teacher quality.

The recommendations laid out here, which draw on examples from other states as well as the findings of related research, are intended as a source of ideas for meeting the challenges the state is facing, including student achievement gaps and teacher workforce issues. These recommendations provide positive steps that the state can take, not only in licensure and program approval, but also in related policy areas such as data use, the creation of new and effective pathways into teaching, the application of incentives to teaching, and the improvement of induction for new teachers. Ideally, these recommendations will help the state meet not only its own specific challenges, but also the general challenge of moving the nation’s education systems closer to structures and practices created to align with the findings from SoLD and to meet all students’ needs. These recommendations are as follows:

Recommendation 1: Strengthen preparation programs through updates to program approval and licensure

Wisconsin’s standards-and performance-based licensure and program approval systems provide a foundational structure with many necessary features to ensure teacher and program quality. Still, a nuanced approach to performance assessment that offers both choice and consistency, combined with a focus on updating state standards, could enhance the state’s ability to ensure all programs are preparing teachers to meet the diverse needs of all learners. The state could take the following steps to promote more consistent teacher and program quality and to integrate new knowledge about how people learn:

  • Build upon past progress by implementing a statewide requirement for candidates to pass a valid and reliable capstone performance assessment for licensure.
  • Revise the state teacher standards, or add required guidance to existing standards, to align state expectations for teachers to the latest SoLD research by adding topics such as support for social and emotional learning (SEL), emphasis on intrinsic motivation and purpose, and use of trauma-informed and healing-informed practices and educative and restorative behavioral supports.
  • Ensure that educator preparation programs are applying updated state standards consistently by requiring that any program-specific modifications to standards are consistent with research and professional consensus about responsible teaching practice aligned with up-to-date findings from SoLD.

Recommendation 2: Provide teaching incentives to improve teacher workforce supply, quality, and diversity

Ongoing teacher shortages, inequitable distribution of under-prepared teachers, and achievement gaps are all related. The state should focus on promoting high-retention pathways to produce better prepared, more effective teachers who are likely to stay in the profession longer. With cost as a key barrier to entry into teaching for students of color and those from low-income backgrounds, teaching incentive programs can create opportunities to recruit a more diverse pool of educators and provide more candidates with access to high-quality preservice preparation, underwriting costs in exchange for a specified number of years of teaching. In Wisconsin, the creation of new high-retention pathways into teaching should be prioritized in the nine high-need districts where underprepared teachers are currently concentrated. This effort should be accompanied by an expansion of current teacher incentive programs; state incentives that bring experienced, National Board Certified educators into high-need schools; and state support for promoting high school students’ interest in teaching, bolstering multiple stages of the professional continuum. This recommendation includes the following steps:

  • Incentivize the creation of high-quality, high-retention teacher residencies in the state’s nine highest-need districts, implemented through partnerships between districts and education preparation programs (EPPs).
  • Increase accessibility and uptake of the Teacher Education Loan (TEL) and Minority Teacher Loan (MTL) programs by increasing funding, expanding eligibility requirements, and broadening the types of schools at which graduates can teach while maintaining incentives for high-need schools, and, for the MTL program, focusing on recruiting diverse teachers by expanding subject-area requirements.
  • Improve the distribution of qualified and experienced educators and the quality of mentoring and teacher leadership in high-need districts by (1) expanding the incentive program for National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) who teach in high-need schools, (2) raising the yearly amount of the grants received by these NBCTs, (3) removing the 9-year limit on grant payments, and (4) tying these upgrades to NBCT participation in mentoring for teacher candidates and novice teachers.
  • Provide administrative support for the expansion of already-existing Educators Rising chapters in the state, which have already ramped up offerings of preservice teacher experience and dual-credit options with EPPs to high school students interested in becoming Wisconsin teachers, and have so far done so without dedicated administrative staffing.

Recommendation 3: Improve data use for continuous system and program improvement

Improvements in data collection and use can help the state track program enrollees and completers to better understand, and make improvements to, the state’s teacher pipeline. Additionally, better data could enhance program approval and continuous improvement processes. To strengthen preparation, the state can:

  • Improve state data by requiring educator preparation programs to report the number and demographics of candidates enrolled in and completing each program by pathway, not only by institution.
  • Ensure that the Office of Socially Responsible Evaluation (SREed) at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which runs the statewide Wisconsin Educator Development Support and Retention (WEDSR) Survey, provides data to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) on educator preparation and induction program performance. Doing so in an aggregated form will provide an overall statewide picture without raising accountability concerns.

Recommendation 4: Provide enhanced induction and mentoring

Induction is an important strategy for increasing teacher retention and effectiveness, addressing both teacher shortages and student achievement gaps. When the switch to lifetime licensure dismantled the state’s professional development system, it also removed the core of new teacher induction. With few remaining requirements, induction quality is dependent on local priorities and funding levels, making it more likely that higher-need schools, with higher concentrations of novice and underprepared teachers, will struggle to provide high-quality programs. Furthermore, many new teachers who enter the classroom without preparation are not required to participate in an induction program. All new teachers—and particularly those in alternative preparation programs, who are more likely to serve students of color and students from low-income families—should have access to high-quality induction, a goal that can be furthered by these steps:

  • Require induction experiences for all novice teachers, including those enrolled in EPPs while working as teachers of record on Tier I licenses.
  • Replace limited statewide induction requirements with more comprehensive expectations to promote more consistent and equitable implementation across districts, add DPI oversight of added expectations, and provide state funding support to high-need districts with higher concentrations of novice and underprepared teachers.

Recommendation 5: Increase state education agency capacity

Wisconsin can support the implementation of all these recommendations by providing adequate staffing for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI). Staff cuts at the DPI, combined with the flood of recent policy changes, have left the agency in a reactive mode. To facilitate the changes recommended here, as well as other improvements prioritized by DPI staff and leadership, will require sufficient agency capacity to act proactively and lead the work. This additional capacity could support:

  • making improvements to the DPI website and speeding up inquiry response times;
  • creating and promulgating new research-based guidance to update teaching standards;
  • proposing and supporting new high-retention pathways into teaching;
  • revising and expanding teacher loan forgiveness programs;
  • collecting and using more educator preparation and workforce data to guide program improvement; and
  • taking on additional responsibilities to support and improve teacher induction.

Conclusion

These five recommendations build both on Wisconsin’s long history of standards-based licensure and program approval and on more recent efforts, aiming to address some of the less effective aspects of current systems while also making forward-looking changes aligned to the biggest challenges facing the state today. With its reputation for quality schooling and educator preparation existing alongside long-standing and wide achievement gaps and serious teacher shortages, Wisconsin has achievements to celebrate and work to do. Applying these recommendations to shape educator preparation and practice can help move the state closer to having a diverse, stable, well-qualified, and equitably distributed teacher workforce able to support all students’ deeper learning and social, emotional, and academic development. While the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic—addressed in an addendum to this report—may exacerbate the state’s challenges or alter or delay the implementation of these recommendations, there are still steps the state can take now to ensure that licensure and program approval are strengthened as schools weather today’s challenges and evolve to meet those of the future. Ideally, this report will serve to inform a strategic approach to guide these efforts.


Preparing Wisconsin Teachers: Research and Recommendations for Licensure and Program Approval by Steve Wojcikiewicz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

This research was supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Core operating support for the Learning Policy Institute is provided by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, Heising-Simons Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Raikes Foundation, and Sandler Foundation. The ideas voiced here are those of the authors and not those of our funders.