Rethink How Teachers Advance their Careers with Micro-credentials - Digital Promise

Rethink How Teachers Advance their Careers with Micro-credentials

Micro-credentials policy paper

June 19, 2019 | By and

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.”

Over the last 10 years policymakers have focused much of their K-12 school reform attention on making the evaluation of teachers more rigorous and tying performance results to their compensation (see recent Calder report here). No doubt they had good reason: Previous teaching evaluations did not always “capture important teaching skills” and “fail(ed) to meaningfully differentiate teacher performance.” And most teachers often were paid the same, irrespective of their effectiveness and their contributions to improving their schools.

Big money was dropped. A large share of $4.3 billion in Race to the Top funds was spent on teacher evaluation and incentive pay, and the Gates Foundation invested $575 million to test and evaluate a more intricate system to use student test scores to assess teaching effectiveness of individual teachers. Every decade since the 1950s, policymakers have tried some form of incentive or merit pay to teachers for their effectiveness and what they accomplish in the classroom, rather than compensation based solely on years of teaching experience or number of college degrees earned.1

Scholarly investigations of these efforts have shown to have little or no effect on both shifts in teachers’ practices and their effectiveness. More specifically, Matt Kraft, a Brown University researcher who has conducted a number of studies, concluded that most of these teaching evaluation systems have “not systematically built on teachers’ strengths” and offer them the “sense that they can be transparent rather than defensive about their struggles.”

For example, school districts like Hillsborough County, Florida, an epicenter of Race to the Top teaching evaluation reforms, invested considerably (with support from the Gates Foundation) in both test-based metrics and an increased number of annual classroom teacher observations, using both administrators and peer evaluators. However, the district has abandoned much of the original approach, now using teachers in “supportive, non-evaluative roles instead of judging their peers.”

Micro-credentials can transform teacher evaluation and compensation

In our policy paper we explore how micro-credentials can transform the way teachers are evaluated and compensated for advanced roles as leaders without leaving the classroom. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states have considerable flexibility in how to support and improve their teacher evaluation systems while still using sound evidence. And while most states have not established well-developed criteria for teacher leadership, 17 have adopted standards, and 22 offer some kind of license or endorsement for those who teach and lead.

Some compelling examples are emerging. States like Tennessee have created ways for micro-credentials to be used for teachers to demonstrate evidence of effectiveness, and districts such as Juab (UT), Kettle Moraine (WI), and Wheaton-Warrenville (IL) have allocated extra time, pay, and leadership incentives for educators who earn micro-credentials. In South Carolina, the Clarendon County School District Three superintendent and an elementary school principal and teachers in one of the state’s collective leadership pilot schools worked on assessing how time is used in their roles so that effective practices could be more visible to one another, and so that more teachers can lead in both formal and informal ways. The results are already paying off for students and the educators who serve them.

Questions must be considered when developing policies

This last decade has seen states and districts develop more rigorous teacher observational instruments and better data infrastructure to track progress. Our analysis suggests that policymakers can take advantage of micro-credentials, with their digital format and opportunities for customization, to radically improve ways for teachers to document and demonstrate their effectiveness and be recognized for it. However, doing so will require asking and answering a few difficult questions:

  • How can micro-credentials offer ways for teachers to be recognized for excellence without having the process forced into a compliance activity?
  • How could district and school leaders use micro-credentials as a means to identify which educators have particular strengths?
  • How can micro-credentials be used to help administrators cultivate teachers as leaders who can then spread their expertise?
  • In what ways might micro-credentials help policymakers and practitioners rethink teacher compensation, merit pay, and traditional career ladders that often create room for just a few teachers to lead?

Grappling with these matters is not simple. But we believe this is essential if progress is going to be made in creating more diverse ways for teachers from different schools with a variety of different needs to go public with their evidence of impact. Micro-credentials offer a way to get beyond the cookie-cutter approaches to evaluation and compensation. Doing so will require a different way of doing business for state education agencies and school districts. We will explore this opportunity in our next blog post.

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.

Read the other blog posts in this series:


1Including pay for performance, knowledge- and skills-based pay, career ladder programs, and market-based pay

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