The state of Wisconsin has a very strong and well-earned reputation for providing an excellent public educational experience for students of all ages. The foundation and history of the public educational system extends back many years.
The professional development and licensing of public school educators established a framework for creating an effective educational system in the state. The purpose of this webpage is to highlight the key events that illustrate the development of educator licensing in Wisconsin.
Early 19th Century
Teachers were expected to have completed their education at a level roughly equivalent to the grade they intended to teach. Thus, a teacher in a one-room elementary school should have completed the 8th grade.
Prospective teachers were apprenticed to an established teacher and candidates for hire were certified as competent by the employing entity such as the county, village or the city.
1848 - Statehood Era
About the time that Wisconsin achieved statehood in 1848, teachers were expected to attend summer institutes or to have completed one or two years of schooling or post secondary preparation beyond the level they intended to teach. County Normal Schools offered the post secondary preparation for teachers.
Normal schools taught the "basic formula" for successful teaching (Normal from the Latin term norma meaning "rule," indicated that prospective teachers would learn the rules of teaching.)
While not yet required to have a license, teachers often held a generic license occasionally termed a "state certificate." This was during the latter half of the 19th century and continued into the early 20th century.
Post World War I Era - 1920
After World War I, two-year normal schools began to be replaced by four-year teacher colleges. At these institutions, prospective teachers learned theories of instruction and educational psychology became the basic "science" of teaching.
It was 1937 when Wisconsin first required a teacher's license issued by the state. Licenses for specific subject areas or levels were available. Once a teacher earned a license, there were no further requirements for training or professional development for that teacher. The licenses issued were considered to be life licenses and were valid for the lifetime of the holder unless revoked by the state superintendent.
After July 1, 1962 a life license stayed valid as long as the holder of that license stayed active in the teaching profession. To keep the life license, the holder had to teach a minimum of 90 days in one school year within a five-year period. Otherwise the license would be declared invalid after a five-year period of not being actively employed in the teaching profession. To regain the license, the holder would need to earn 6 semester credits or the equivalent during the five years immediately preceding the application for revalidation.
1960's, 70's, 80's
Beginning in 1964, the regular license for all teachers was a three-year renewable license. A life license was issued if the licensee had completed six semesters of "successful" teaching experience. A principal or superintendent needed to sign the application for the life license stating the initial teaching experience of the applicant was successful.
It was in the 1970's that serious consideration was being given to the need for continued professional development for teachers. This concept was strongly supported by the Commission to Study Teacher Education and Certification which was appointed by State Superintendent Barbara Thompson in 1974 to review current procedures and make recommendations for change.
As of July 1, 1983 life licenses were no longer issued by the DPI. Professional growth was now a requirement for license renewal and teachers were now required to earn six credits (or the equivalent) to renew a five-year teaching license. This professional growth requirement took effect for licensed administrators and pupil service professionals on July, 1980.
Beginning of PI 34 - 1990's
In 1994 the State Superintendent appointed the Restructuring Teacher Education and Licensure in Wisconsin Task Force with representation from many constituencies to forge a new structure for educator preparation and licensure in the state of Wisconsin. The recommendations from this task force were put forth in April, 1995 and the Wisconsin Quality Educator Initiative, PI 34 was the result. The educator standards adopted in PI 34 provided a framework for educator preparation and ongoing professional development.
From 1995 to 1999 the Department held numerous public hearings and gathered input from a variety of constituents regarding PI 34. The feedback gathered did result in some changes to the original proposal. In the summer of 1999, PI 34 was submitted to the state legislature for review and was approved in 2000. Rules were promulgated by the State Superintendent in April, 2001.
Wisconsin Administrative Code - PI 34 was fully implemented in 2004. The Wisconsin Quality Educator Initiative provides a license renewal system based on performance standards that support the belief that educators need to be lifelong learners. Educators need to maintain a commitment to continued acquisition of knowledge and skills in their licensed categories. Three license stages were developed (Initial Educator, Professional Educator, Master Educator) and renewal of a license requires a Professional Development Plan.
- Wisconsin Historical Society – For information on the history or records of Two-year Teacher’s Colleges in Wisconsin. Also contact: Harry Miller, Reference Archivist. Phone: (608) 264-6460.
- Wisconsin Historical Society Archives – Use key phrase “County Teachers College” to search for information in the Historical Society Archives.
- PI 34 Wisconsin Quality Educator Initiatives – For information and resources about Wis. Admin. PI 34.
- Wisconsin Educator Standards – For information on Wisconsin standards for Teaching, Administration, and Pupil Services.
- Professional Development Plan – For information and resources related to Professional Development Plan requirements for licensing.