In this series, we take a closer look inside our new paper, “Micro-credentials and Education Policy in the United States: Recognizing Learning and Leadership for Our Nation’s Teachers.”
There is no shortage of sound research on what constitutes effective professional development for teachers—focusing on specific curriculum content, encouraging active learning, supporting collaboration among peers, and offering opportunities for analysis of student work. However, many surveys of teachers suggest that teachers rarely have access to the professional learning they need and want, as well as the kind that is most effective in helping them improve their teaching.
As reported in a recent Education Week article, teachers continue to point out why their professional development is so “frustrating”—it is rarely differentiated for their professional experiences, constantly shifts in focus, and typically offers few opportunities for follow-up with their colleagues in using new practices.
Over the last several years, the micro-credentialing movement has offered some hope for doing the business of PK-12 professional development in different ways. Bolstered by new technologies, educator micro-credentials are mini-certifications that allow teachers to present evidence of competency in teaching or leading school improvement. They also can allow school systems to customize professional development to formally understand which teachers are good at what so expertise can spread more readily.
Micro-credentials, as a lever for transforming professional learning for teachers, are emerging at an auspicious time: Researchers are pointing out that the right kind of professional development—defined by authentic and structured collaboration among teachers—improves student achievement. And education reformers and policy leaders are beginning to recognize that if schools are to create competency-based and personalized learning experiences for every student and ensure students know how to collaborate and communicate, then those who are teaching them need to lead their own learning as well.
However, education research also has been clear that good ideas get to scale only if the right policies and practices are in place. In our new paper, commissioned by Digital Promise, we point to a number of teaching policy issues that need to be addressed if micro-credentials are going to spur the transformation of professional learning that researchers call for and teachers seek. We also document what a growing number of states and districts as well as the nation’s largest teachers’ union are doing with micro-credentials.
Our interviews and surveys, along with our own experiences in supporting more personalized learning for educators, helped us point to matters of policy and practice that can determine the success of the micro-credentialing movement. We raise a series of teaching policy issues that legislators, state education agencies, and school districts (and charter networks), as well as practitioners, need to address if micro-credentials will fuel teacher-led learning and leadership.
One major underlying theme is how to determine the best ways to encourage educators to take advantage of micro-credentials and opportunities for more customized, competency-based personalized learning that both fits with and improves professional learning. Looking more carefully at this issue led us to see both challenges and possibilities in four strands of teaching policy in the United States: initial licensure, recertification, teacher evaluation, and advanced roles/career pathways.
Our policy brief offers more questions than answers. But that is the point. No cookie-cutter solution can work in teachers’ professional development—and none can work in teaching policy, either. These questions, we hope, can help define more specific decision points and recommendations for practitioners and policymakers, provoking some out-of-the-box thinking and action toward more innovative approaches to teacher-led learning.
We are confident that micro-credentials will become more attractive to teachers, creating ways for them to be free from long-standing, one-size-fits-all professional development—and bringing greater public recognition to teaching and the potential to lead without leaving the classroom.
No doubt that much more experimentation and systematic study are needed, and many technical changes in the delivery of professional development are in order. A bit of a spoiler alert: The most important matter may be related to the culture of professional learning in our nation’s schools—and the role that teachers play in their own development, individually and collectively. Teaching policies can—and must—play a significant role. Our next blog post will focus on the specific opportunities and challenges of initial and re-licensure teaching policies, and how they can leverage and be leveraged by micro-credentials.
To learn more about how micro-credentials can be an effective form of personalized professional development for educators, you can read our full paper, “Micro-credentials and Education Policy in the United States: Recognizing Learning and Leadership for Our Nation’s Teachers.” For more on educator micro-credentials, visit the Educator Micro-credentials initiative website and Digital Promise’s Micro-credential platform as well as CTQ’s Micro-credentials Strategy Framework.