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Michigan Takes Bold Steps to Improve Early Learning by Narrowing Teacher Licensure Bands

Alexandria, VA — Teaching young children requires deep knowledge of what preschoolers think, how they behave, and why. A new NASBE analysis explains how Michigan jettisoned its broad elementary teaching licenses in favor of preK-3 and 3-6 licenses that will better equip new teachers with developmentally appropriate knowledge and skills.

Twenty-three states offer licenses focused on early childhood, but many also offer broader certifications for grades K-6 or 8, or 1-6 that give prospective teachers and hiring school districts greater leeway in placement. “When states set broad bands for teaching certificates, teacher preparation programs place more emphasis on upper elementary grades than lower elementary grades because the content is perceived as more difficult,” said Richard Lower, director of preschool and out of school time learning in the Michigan Department of Education’s Office of Great Start. “There is an assumption that teachers already know the content and can teach the lower grades.”

Michigan’s narrower teacher certification bands will help address that issue. The new certifications, which the Michigan State Board of Education adopted in November 2018, bifurcate the previous elementary license into one for lower elementary (preK-3) and another for upper elementary (grades 3-6). The state embarked on this work as member of NASBE’s Early Childhood Education Network, in which members of a stakeholder group met to advance early education policies and build community engagement and collaboration.

With support from NASBE, the Michigan group established a strategy to support early childhood workforce and teacher licensure efforts, including surveying educators on the proposed changes. Feedback from the surveys and meetings across the state yielded insight into where adjustments in the licensure structure were needed, such as giving more flexibility to small schools. The department’s investment in developing a graphic to illustrate the new licensing structure helped build support among the public and other key stakeholders like deans of schools of education.

Michigan leaders observe lessons learned. “You have to take time to get clarity of what the charge is, what the intent is, and what the goals are,” said Lower. Colleague Kelli Cassaday, an early literacy consultant for the department, noted the critical role the state board played. Having early childhood standards and professional standards under one board enabled higher education and preK-12 to convene in one room to set “common language and expectations for first year students,” she said. Multiple feedback loops and ensuring that diverse stakeholders adopted common definitions and terms were also important to the success of the process, they said.

Read and share “Michigan Narrows Licensure Bands to Improve Early Learning.”

For 60 years, NASBE has served as the only membership organization for state boards of education. A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, NASBE elevates state board members’ voices in national and state policymaking, facilitates the exchange of informed ideas, and supports members in advancing equity and excellence in public education for students of all races, genders, and circumstances. Learn more at


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