Thousands of teachers across Massachusetts are facing non-renewal of their contracts due to the expiration of emergency teaching licenses. In New Bedford, the primary driver of roughly 180 teacher non-renewals — a spike from the normal amount of non-renewals — is the expiration of these licenses, which are no longer automatically reissued since the official end of the COVID-19 emergency.
During the pandemic, emergency licenses were created to ensure districts had a pathway to onboard and retain teachers while certification exams were not being administered. Only a bachelor’s degree was required to obtain an emergency license, and districts continued interviewing, vetting, and hiring as they saw fit.
Now, the thousands of educators who came into Massachusetts classrooms through this program — a more diverse group than Massachusetts teachers as a whole — must submit applications to extend their licensure status. Several thousand among this diverse, new crop of teachers are seeing their licenses expire and won’t be able to teach until their licenses are reapproved for extension.
In New Bedford, roughly 100 teachers were non-renewed for failure to update their licensure status, said Heather Emsley, manager of Human Capital Services. More than half of the teachers on an emergency license never responded to the district’s initial outreach about reapplying for their licenses.
However, 45 of the non-renewed teachers have since submitted applications and are expected to return to their jobs in the fall, Emsley said.
How many people are affected by emergency licenses
Cameron Costa was one of the teachers on an emergency license whose contract was not renewed. He said the emergency licensure pathway helped him enter the profession: “There’s no way I could have come up with hundreds of dollars to take some tests.”
After teaching in New Bedford High’s vocational program for hospitality services this past year, Costa (whose mother, Melissa Costa, serves on the New Bedford School Committee) said there could have been better communication from the district and state. “I didn’t realize I had to show I had taken steps toward taking the [licensure] test,” he said.
For all teachers — even those with full professional licenses — the non-renewals have brought about a frightening uptick in their friends and colleagues losing their jobs. “It’s a scary time for educators,” said Sarah Bol, who teaches at Roosevelt Middle School. “You think a lot of people have gotten their pink slips, but then you hear about someone else.”
Sign up for our free newsletter
Matching statewide trends, more people of color applied for and secured New Bedford teaching jobs using emergency licenses, according to district officials. Emsley said she has advocated at the state level for maintaining this pathway. “I do not believe we are doing enough to address the barrier of licensure … to the pipeline into education,” she said.
The state has responded to some concerns from districts about the expiring emergency licenses, including in a May 31 virtual meeting when the commissioner of education, Jeff Riley, updated all district superintendents about the emergency licensure policy, but did not take any questions, according to those in attendance.
The current policy is that no new emergency licenses will be granted after Nov. 7, later this year.
The Massachusetts Tests for Education Licensure (MTEL) exams that were waived by these emergency licenses may play a role in diversity among Massachusetts teachers. A study from Harvard’s Kennedy School found that “licensure exam takers are much less diverse than the college-enrolled population, and underrepresented minorities are less likely to pass the exam.”
However, the underrepresentation may be caused by the burden of taking the MTEL exams, and not the content of the tests themselves. Recent research into these licensure tests indicate that better performance on the exams positively correlates with teachers’ in-service performance ratings, and are actually more predictive of teaching success among people of color.
Teachers say non-renewals of all types hurt schools, students
Regarding the high number of non-renewals, New Bedford administrators answered questions at last week’s School Committee meeting, and said the spike was the result of statewide policies that no longer automatically reissue emergency licenses.
“We don’t own this process,” said Superintendent Thomas Anderson. Other administrators described their outreach efforts, including emails and some in-person meetings, to help make teachers aware of the process, but stated they had limited authority.
“Licensure is an individual relationship between an educator and the department of education,” said Emsley.
Not all were satisfied with the explanation. During the public comment period, Alexia DaSilva said, “I was a little bit frustrated hearing the deflections.” A former New Bedford teacher now working in Fall River, DaSilvia added, “We’re losing wonderful, qualified, passionate educators … who live in our community and share cultures with our students.”
Beyond licensure, School Committee members stated that they were hearing concerns from constituents about the other 80 non-renewals, for which the district does not need to provide a reason for their decision. “If we’re operating in a system that even appears unfair … it has severe implications,” said committee member Ross Grace Jr.
Penelope Jennewein, a non-renewed educator who held protest signs outside the School Committee meeting, said she was dismayed by the high number of teachers who aren’t receiving a new contract. “Ultimately these practices are bad for students,” she said.
Thomas Nickerson, president of the New Bedford Educators Association, the local teachers union, did not have a statement about the 180 non-renewals, but said teachers can bring individual concerns to the union.
Meanwhile, Andrew O’Leary, the incoming interim superintendent, pointed out that these non-renewals were not layoffs, which would reduce the number of teaching positions. Instead, New Bedford is hoping to employ a record number of teachers next school year — around 1,500 educators.
It could be a challenge to find enough people to fill these positions, district officials have said, and over 200 job listings are currently posted in the district, many for key teaching roles.
Any more non-renewals could mean that the number of open jobs could grow, but the deadline for teachers to receive notice of their non-renewals in New Bedford was June 15.
Email Colin Hogan at email@example.com.
Thank you to our sponsors
Founding benefactors: Joan and Irwin Jacobs fund of the Jewish Community Foundation, Mary and Jim Ottaway
For questions about donations, contact Chrystal Walsh, director of advancement, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For questions about sponsoring The Light, contact Peter Andrews, director of business development and community engagement, at email@example.com.