The Teaching Profession

Report: The Right Policies Are Needed for Microcredentials to Succeed

The microcredential universe is expanding. Digital Promise and the National Education Association are both running considerable microcredential programs. Fifteen state education agencies have either launched microcredential pilots or are dabbling in them in some way. Pre-service and in-service teacher education is finding a use for them, including issuing college credit.

A new whitepaper from two education nonprofits has examined the challenges and possibilities posed by the use of microcredentials as a structure for helping teachers get the professional learning they need. "Micro-credentials and Education Policy in the United States," written by the Center for Teaching Quality and commissioned by Digital Promise, noted that these "mini-certifications" have appeared on the scene "at an auspicious time." Education research has identified a link between teacher training and collaboration and better student outcomes. Yet, as the authors explained, "good ideas get to scale only if the right policies and practices are in place."

To develop its findings, CTQ conducted a review of teacher policy reports, surveyed directors of teacher education and certification in education agencies and spoke with state and district leaders as well as teachers involved in microcredential programs.

The authors found four "strands of teaching policy" where microcredentials can play a big role: during initial licensing, in recertification, for teacher evaluation and for developing career pathways. During each of these aspects of the teaching career, as the report acknowledged, there are still "more questions than answers." For example, during recertification, policy questions surface regarding who should review the evidence developed during the microcredentialing process and what kinds of "safeguards" need to be put in place to ensure that these credits "represent a more meaningful professional learning experience" than what's currently used for continuing education units.

The report offers five areas where specific policy decisions should focus to make sure microcredentials retain their effectiveness:

  • Maintaining quality: The report advises that states or districts develop "teams of educators, administrators, and researchers" to guide the use of microcredentials and make sure they adhere to high levels of quality.

  • Quantifying the value: Decisions need to be made about how to value microcredentials — with stipends, bumps in pay, continuing education credit, pathways to advanced degrees or something else.

  • Opening up time for training: Professional development of any flavor requires time on the clock to accomplish, and effective teaching policies need to account for that.

  • Recognizing teacher-leaders: The report suggested that policies need to be made "more explicit" about how educators are recognized for earning microcredentials as "demonstrations of learning and leading." Development of these teacher-leaders needs funding.

  • Getting buy-in: Policy on microcredentialing also needs to take into account what teachers say they want and need for professional development and developing a system for delivering that.

"Micro-credentials are attractive to teachers because they create a way for them to free themselves from long-standing, one-size-fits-all professional development," the report stated. But in order for this new form of certified training to have the impact it portends, teachers need to play the front-runner role in "their own development individually and collectively."

The report is openly available through the Digital Promise website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.