Recently, South Carolina State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said, “If we are truly committed to ensuring every South Carolina classroom is led by a high-quality teacher, we must act now to address our growing teacher shortage.”

Superintendent Spearman – a member of the newly formed Micro-Credentials Partnership of States – is correct. South Carolina and states across the country, including my home state of North Carolina, must act now to ensure all students have high-quality, effective teachers in their classrooms.

In SC, classrooms lose between 5,000 to 7,000 teachers yearly, while only about 2,000 new teachers graduate from the state’s teaching programs every year. And South Carolina is not alone – while the numbers vary by state, most states are facing a massive teacher shortage that is systematically impacting students, schools, education leaders, and the field of education.

Like professionals in any other industry, teachers want opportunities to grow and advance their careers, along with recognition and rewards for excellence in the classroom. Historically, advancement and better pay for teachers have meant leaving the classroom and going into non-teaching jobs or administration. But by and large, teachers want to teach students and stay in the classroom.

I firmly believe micro-credentials could be a potential strategy for keeping teachers in the classroom and in the field, ensuring every student has a high-quality, effective teacher.

A micro-credential allows teachers to show mastery of a job-embedded, discrete skill or competency they have demonstrated through the submission of evidence assessed via defined evaluation criteria. When embedded into a comprehensive professional learning system, micro-credentials have the capacity to assess and recognize the acquisition of a teacher’s skills, knowledge, and competencies so he or she can advance in their career and be acknowledged and rewarded as a professional across schools and districts nationwide.

However, because micro-credentials are relatively new to education, states need a consistent definition, standards, and impact data to help them (and micro-credential users) vet and determine the quality of the micro-credentials.

And for micro-credentials to be meaningful for teacher development, they need to be portable, aligned with effective professional development, and allow teachers to receive credit for them across districts and states. In addition, teachers must be provided with some level of compensation and recognition for acquiring the additional skills and knowledge they need to make them more effective teachers for student success.

That’s why a new partnership of four states – Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wyoming – is working together to develop consistent quality assurance standards for competency-based micro-credentials that promote, and are integrated with, a high-quality system of educator professional learning that recognizes educator professional growth and advancement.

South Carolina has established a model for quality assurance standards for micro-credentials through the development of mCrED.

This process uniquely marries best practices to state teaching standards alongside priorities for leadership, equity, literacy, and other areas of focus.

Individually, each of our partner states brings experience and insight into their different approaches to micro-credentials. In South Carolina, the state Department of Education and State Board have included micro-credentials in alternative teacher prep programs at the University of South Carolina as well as through the new initial certification options. I particularly admire the SC Legislature and governor because of their support in funding SC-TEACHER to study the impact of teacher recruitment, preparation, and retention policies and practices on teacher effectiveness in South Carolina.

Together, the Micro-Credentials Partnership of States will build off of work started in North Carolina in 2019, when digiLEARN – the nonprofit I founded to focus on innovation in education – and the North Carolina State Board of Education led the North Carolina Partnership for Micro-credentials. The NC Partnership for Micro-Credentials, which included RTI International and New America, investigated the use of micro-credentials as a tool for teacher retention and development in North Carolina and other states.

Our work was based on the premise that educator micro-credentials for teachers could be a potential strategy for ensuring that every student has a high-quality, effective teacher.

Through our work in North Carolina, we identified key issues to effectively utilize micro-credentials for teacher retention, development, and career advancement that are applicable to other states. Now, we are expanding the work together with our partners in the Micro-Credentials Partnership of States, which includes the University of South Carolina and the South Carolina Department of Education. The Micro-credentials Partnership of States will produce recommendations for how micro-credentials can be used to improve how teachers are developed, recognized, and rewarded across the country. Ultimately, these recommendations will lead to policies and practices that influence state-level systematic improvements in the educator human capital ecosystem, including recruitment, credentialing, professional development, and retention.

Micro-credentials can be a valuable tool for teacher professional learning. They’re flexible with regard to when and how teachers can take advantage of them; they’re personalized to individual teacher needs, just like personalized learning for students; and they create professional opportunities for advancement IF they are a part of the state-recognized system of quality professional learning.

But we did identify some challenges in our NC work that our multi-state partnership is working to address.

The first challenge is creating that universal definition. Another challenge is the absence of consistent quality standards for micro-credentials. Districts and schools are granting all kinds of micro-credentials, but there is little known about the rigor and impact of micro-credentials on teacher practice and student learning. Some of that is because micro-credentials are relatively new. But some of it is because of the absence of consistent quality standards for micro-credentials. States will need to address consistency to have the most positive impact.

Micro-credentials are competency-based, while other professional learning is accrual of time. These are fundamentally different ideas. There’s a challenge for states to determine how to acknowledge competence when they currently recognize seat time or CEUs. Should we abandon CEUs in favor of competency-based learning through micro-credentials, or should we expand the professional learning system to include both micro-credentials and CEUs? For NC, we settled on both — a system that integrates micro-credentials into its professional learning system so there is portability across districts as well as compensation or reward.

Another challenge is deciding whether all teachers should participate in micro-credentials or whether we should target a specific group. After much discussion, we decided experienced teachers should be the first target, not beginning teachers. Beginning teachers are just learning how to teach and have many induction requirements to get their license, while experienced teachers have the skill set to work independently or more autonomously on micro-credentials. This is also consistent with the thinking behind offering micro-credentials as a retention strategy for increased recognition and compensation to stay in the classroom and profession. Data shows that experienced teachers tend to leave after eight to ten years.

Finally, we need more data that ties micro-credentials for teachers to improved student outcomes. We don’t have it yet because micro-credentials are so new. Determining how to track this data will be incredibly important as states explore incorporating micro-credentials into their teacher-learning systems.

I am excited and honored to work with my colleagues in South Carolina, Arkansas, and Wyoming as we work to integrate micro-credentials into systems of professional learning for all teachers so that teachers can advance in their careers and be acknowledged and rewarded as professionals across schools, districts, and the country.

I encourage you to learn more about our work at