Licensing changes eyed to address teacher shortage

Proposal would ease rules on ESL, special ed teaching


THE STATE EDUCATION board is exploring new ways to address the statewide teacher shortage through more “flexible” regulations for specialized educators.

Board members voted Tuesday to start the process of amending education licensure regulations to create an easier pathway for already-licensed teachers to be able to teach special education and English as a second language, among other changes.

“I think it’s important that we’re trying to continue to address staffing challenges while maintaining key qualifications,” said Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeffrey Riley. “This would be an effort in that direction.”

Among the proposed changes is an amendment that would allow licensed teachers to obtain a provisional license in a new educational field, which current regulations do not allow.

This change would open doors for interested teachers to be licensed to teach special education or English as a second language — fields where there are currently significant shortages, Riley said.

Traditional teachers who have at least two years of experience modifying curriculum for students with disabilities would qualify for a provisional license to teach special education, and educators who pass the ESL Massachusetts Test for Educator Licensure (MTEL) could teach students who are non-native English speakers.

Another proposed amendment would create two new licenses for early educators to teach students with disabilities.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education currently offers licenses to teach students with moderate and severe disabilities in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. As these teachers could be placed in late-elementary or middle schools, they must pass a general curriculum MTEL test. The department is proposing creating a new grade span, PreK-2, for early educators who would like to teach special education. With this change, the department intends to remove a barrier by bypassing the general curriculum testing requirement.

Proposed amendments would also permit provisional licensure applicants to “demonstrate knowledge” in alternative ways, instead of taking previously-required courses or seminars.

Lastly, the department hopes to streamline entry for school nurses. In the health care industry and in schools, nurses are in high demand as vacancy rates grow.

The proposed regulation change would create a new provisional license for school nurses, under which they would still need to pass the communication and literacy skills MTEL.

Board member Tricia Canavan asked if the department could remove the requirement that school nurses must take the exam.

“I wonder about the necessity for them to pass the communication and literacy skills MTEL,” Canavan said. “There’s a nursing shortage, and my understanding is that school nurse positions, while offering certain benefits like a school schedule and that sort of thing, generally the pay rate is not as competitive as what nurses can earn otherwise … It seems to me an unnecessary barrier with what we know is happening in the nursing field.”

Director of Education Licensure Brian Devine said state law requires that adults in a school building pass reading and writing skills tests, and that the power to change this lies with the Legislature.

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“I think we need to put that on the to-do list, because that just seems like an obstacle for these critical positions, particularly giving the social and emotional needs of our kids that seem heightened coming out of the pandemic,” Canavan said.

The board unanimously voted on Tuesday to solicit public comment on the proposed regulation changes, anticipating a final vote by the board in June.