Perspective | The more teachers learn, the better they teach. Their pay should be higher, too.

No one is more important to improve student learning than an effective teacher. And effective teachers need an innovative system of professional learning — one that includes micro-credentials.

Micro-credentials are a competency-based form of certification for formal and informal professional learning experiences that support educators in developing skills and acquiring knowledge to improve their practice, all of which supports student success, according to the National Education Association (NEA).

Micro-credentials can fundamentally change professional learning for teachers and educators to ensure opportunities are personalized, competency-based, relevant to the school and district standards, and will lead to increased achievement for all learners. And that’s what really matters — the students.

Micro-credentials have been used successfully for years in other industries to help professionals learn the skills they need to succeed in their careers. In fact, I remember years ago when kids in high school could earn a Cisco credential and a Microsoft credential, graduate and go into the workforce at a competitive salary.   

However, because micro-credentials are a relatively new form of professional learning in education, there is very little existing policy documentation codifying implementation.

Organizations like Bloomboard and Digital Promise are developing and implementing different approaches to micro-credentials. And schools and school systems in this state and across the country are searching for ways to move toward competency based professional learning specific to individual teachers’ needs. But because states don’t have a system of professional learning in place that supports that goal, those schools and school systems have been unable to make real progress.

That’s why I am so excited to be working with the North Carolina State Board of Education and education and policy leaders across the state to explore the potential of micro-credentials and develop standards and model policy in North Carolina for use of micro-credentials in teacher professional learning.

But we must approach this work in a way that recognizes that teachers are career professionals, just like in any other industry.

Micro-credentials help professionals in other industries demonstrate continued learning with a focus on specific skills and proficiencies geared toward their individual career path and goals. Micro-credentials also boost professionals’ resumes to make them more competitive in the job market and lead to increased recognition or compensation. And because micro-credentials use online options and advanced technologies, employees (including teachers) have greater flexibility to complete them.

For micro-credentials to be meaningful tools for teachers, they need to offer the same benefits as in other industries.

That means micro-credentials in education must be portable to allow teachers to receive credit for them across districts and states. And teachers must be provided some level of compensation and recognition for receiving the extra skills and knowledge they need to make them more effective.

These basic tenants are considered a given right in other industries, and they should be a basic right in education as well. Otherwise, micro-credentials as a lever to transform professional learning will become yet another good idea in education that fails to live up to its potential.

North Carolina has always been out in front of change and innovation. While other states are exploring this work, I believe North Carolina can be the leader and the first state in the nation to develop a system of professional learning, along with model micro-credential standards, criteria for credentialing agencies, and model policy that allows teachers to further their own learning and therefore the learning of their students.

A former public school teacher, Bev Perdue served as the first female Governor of North Carolina from 2009 to 2013. She is the founder of DigiLEARN, a nonprofit working to narrow achievement and skills gaps by greater use of technology to expand learning options for students and instructional opportunities for teachers.

Teachers Perspective