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Research Spotlight on Alternative Routes To Teacher Certification

NEA Reviews of the Research on Best Practices in Education

Found In: teaching strategies

Alternative routes to teacher certification are having a profound impact on K-12 education. What began in the early 1980s as a way to ward off projected shortages of teachers and replace emergency certification has rapidly evolved into an accepted model for recruiting, training, and certifying those who already have at least a bachelor's degree and want to become teachers.

In addition, these programs offer individuals, regardless of whether they have a background in education or not, the opportunity to become licensed/certified by meeting requirements prescribed by the state. Every state in the nation and the District of Columbia report they have at least some type of nontraditional route to licensure (Source: National Center for Alternative Certification).

The NEA recognizes that there are — and should be — multiple pathways for entrance into the teaching profession and for attaining full licensure. The pathways should provide options so that individual candidates may select the one that best provides them a pathway to full licensure. None should be considered superior or inferior to the other. Further, the NEA believes that alternative pathways must be equal in rigor to traditional programs and that every teacher candidate must meet identical standards and measures in order to receive a professional teaching license in a given state. These standards and measures should ensure that processes for teacher licensure adequately address the skills, knowledge, and dispositions needed for effective teaching.

Most teachers entering the profession through alternative routes are recruited for areas where the demand for teachers is greatest — in large cities and rural areas — and in subject areas in greatest demand — special education, mathematics, and science. Alternative route programs are created and designed specifically to meet the needs in those areas, as well as the specific needs of prospective teachers who come from other careers and with considerable life experiences. These programs get prospective teachers into the classroom early, usually as a full-time teacher, earning a salary, while working with experienced teachers (Source: State Policy Trends for Alternative Routes to Teacher Certification, 2005).

Although the research on alternative routes to certification isn't substantial, there is enough to justify some modest conclusions and to provide guidance for policymakers. For instance, the research suggests that the following features are important to successful programs:

  • Strong partnership between preparation programs and school districts
  • Good participant screening and selection process
  • Strong supervision and mentoring for participants during their teaching
  • Solid curriculum that includes coursework in classroom basics and teaching methods
  • Sufficient and relevant training and coursework prior to the assignment of participants to full-time teaching(Education Commission of the States, 2003)

Regarding the effectiveness of alternative route versus traditional certification programs, Linda Darling-Hammond et al.'s research on Teach for America recruits finds that those "who become certified after 2 or 3 years do about as well as other certified teachers in supporting student achievement gains; however, nearly all of them leave within three years. Teachers' effectiveness appears strongly related to the preparation they have received for teaching." (Education Policy Analysis Archives, 2005)

Amid the proponents and the opposition, what does seem apparent is that alternative certification programs have the potential to recruit more minority, male, and older teachers into urban and rural areas. With federal programs providing increasing support and oversight, alternative certification programs are not only evolving, but also gaining wider acceptance (Education Commission of the States, 2004).

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