By | Lauren Acree and Alison Graham

Over the past few years, micro-credentials (MCs) for educators have become the latest trend in teacher professional development,and for good reason. Not only do educators want to earn MC, it  also puts the power of professional learning back in the hand of teachers. No longer do they have to rely on someone else to give a workshop, sitting and listen for hours; now educators can choose the topic of their professional learning, how and when they want to earn it, and receive feedback on how they’ve applied learning  to their practice.

There is a ton of potential for micro-credentials to ensure that students are sitting in classrooms with outstanding teachers. However, given the rapid growth of MCs it is important to take a moment to reflect upon the implications of MCs for our students, particularly with regards to equity. Teachers are the single most influential predictor of student performance. If we believe MCs can help support efforts to ensure every student receives an excellent education, then it’s important to consider the ways in which micro-credentials will narrow and widen gaps between students.

Ways Micro-credentials can narrow gaps:

  • If MCs can scale high quality professional development and coaching, then perhaps more students will have access to great teachers.
  • MCs model personalized professional learning for teachers, which might help them envision what they can do for students.
  • MCs require all teachers to show artifacts that demonstrate how they are using a best practice with their students. Rather than just hearing about it in a workshop, teachers do it.
  • MCs also give teachers formative feedback they can use to improve their practice. While some schools have coaches to provide feedback, this is far from universal. MCs help ensure all teachers have access to feedback they crave.
  • Teachers are no longer limited to the professional development offered in their district. This will be particularly helpful in small districts where the number of people able to lead professional development is limited, as are the offerings.

Micro-credentials might also widen gaps:

  • If only some districts award credit for MCs, there’s some potential risk for perpetuating inequity. Being able to try new things is a luxury and many schools and districts feel as though they cannot step too far out into the wild.
  • Currently, MCs are “opt-in” forms of professional learning. If they are more effective, only those students in classrooms with teachers who are pursuing MCs and actively improving their practice will benefit, while those with teachers not pursuing MCs may not reap as many benefits.  
  • As more MCs are created, the quality of each micro-credential will vary more and we don’t yet know much about what makes some micro-credentials more effective than others. If certain schools or districts are very thorough in making sure MCs are up to a certain level or rigor while others do not, there is potential for disparity.

The micro-credentialing work has never been about micro-credentialing – it’s about finding a way to ensure that there is a highly effective educator in every single classroom. It’s about improving teaching and learning everywhere. While MCs are not the only way to support the goal of excellent teaching in every classroom, they represent a promising approach. As educators and leaders nationwide start to use MCs, it’s imperative to consider the implications and design systems with an eye towards equity.