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'Alternate Route' Said a Success

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One of the first independent studies of New Jersey's controversial alternate route to teacher certification has found the program to be a ''notable success," despite a number of weaknesses.

The study, which was scheduled to be released this week, was conducted by the Council for Basic Education in Washington.

New Jersey has largely "accomplished," according to the study, the program's explicit goal: to replace emergency certification with a legitimate system for employing talented people who have not taken education courses.

The state has discontinued, it says, the once widespread practice of hiring teachers on emergency certificates, except in two shortage areas, special education and bilingual education.

In addition, the program "has succeeded--and gives every promise of continuing to succeed--in attracting large numbers of qualified individuals into the teaching profession who otherwise would not enter," the study notes.

But the report, "New Teachers, Better Teachers," cautions that further improvements are needed for the program "to meet its full potential." In particular, it criticizes the training and supervision that alternate-route candidates receive prior to certification.

Numbers Growing

Since the program began in 1985, more than 700 alternate-route teachers have been employed by public and private schools in New Jersey, according to the state education department.

Of those, three-quarters have been hired by public schools in 152 of the state's 611 school districts. The remainder were employed by private schools.

The number of alternate-route teachers hired has jumped from 121 in the program's first year to 320 in its third year--between September 1986 and September 1987. Last fall, the program accounted for approximately 18 percent of all new teachers entering the state's public schools.

Roughly 40 percent of the alternate-route participants have been hired as elementary-school teachers, and 34 percent as high-school mathematics or science teachers.

Twenty percent of those hired since the program's inception have been members of a minority group.

N.J. 'Route' Is Wider

At least 18 states now allow alternative routes to certification, according to a study commissioned last year by the U.S. Education Department. (See Education Week, March 11, 1987.)

In most of those states, however, districts that want to hire an individual through an alternate route first must demonstrate that they cannot find a qualified, fully certified candidate for the job, say officials at the American Association for Colleges of Teacher Education.

In contrast, districts in New Jersey that are willing to commit the time and money needed to supervise and train alternate-route candidates may hire such individuals whenever they appear more promising than fully certified teachers.

In fact, Saul Cooperman, the state's commissioner of education, encourages districts to search for4and hire alternate-route candidates.

Mr. Cooperman has remained a staunch defender of the program, even though it runs counter to the views of many educators, who have called for more, not less, training and clinical experience for prospective teachers.

He denies the accusation of critics that the state is irresponsibly turning students over to teachers who lack the training and skills needed to perform effectively in the classroom. Provisional teachers receive rigorous training and close supervision, he maintains.

To qualify for the alternate route, candidates must possess a degree in the academic subject to be taught and pass an exam in that field.

State officials say alternate-route candidates have consistently received higher average scores on the National Teacher Examinations than their counterparts from state-approved colleges. They also pass the nte's subject-area exams at a higher rate.

Of prospective New Jersey teachers taking the nte during the first seven months of last year, 95.4 percent of the alternate-route candidates passed, compared with 87.5 percent of the candidates from traditional training programs, according to the state.

Training Component Faulted

But while the cbe study generally praised the quality of alternate-route candidates, it found widespread dissatisfaction among them over the training program, supervision, and assistance they had received.

Provisional teachers were most critical of the regulation requiring that they receive 80 hours of formal instruction during the first six weeks of the school year, according to the study's authors, David H. Lynn, cbe's director of publications, and Dennis Gray, the council's deputy director.

The 80 hours of coursework in professional knowledge and skills must be completed while candidates fulfill their regular teaching duties. The instruction is usually provided at one of 13 regional centers, which are coordinated by the state in conjunction with a number of teacher-training institutions.

This coursework, along with an additional 120 hours of instruction required during the rest of the year, "is far too great a burden," the report asserts. "We saw no evidence," it says, "that teachers benefited sufficiently from the training to warrant the considerable expense not only of money but of time and energy."

The authors also criticize the widely varying quality of the courses offered. Many of the provisional teachers told them that college instructors and school administrators teaching the classes had "little knowledge of the day-to-day demands of a classroom, and little to offer in the way of practical lessons or advice," according to the report.

In fact, the authors term "ironic" their finding that the training provisional teachers receive is similar in content and style to the training offered by schools of education, since "one implication of the provisional program ... is a criticism of traditional models" of teacher education.

Supervision Seen Weak

Although many provisional teachers interviewed reported that the mentoring component of the alternate route was the "strongest,8most helpful part of the program," the authors also found that many participating schools did not have the resources to free a certified teacher from current duties to provide that full-time support.

Each provisional teacher is supposed to spend one month under the supervision of an experienced mentor teacher before assuming full responsibility in the classroom.

During the rest of the year, a school-support team is to provide supervision and guidance through a schedule of observations and meetings. At the end of the year, the school principal must decide whether the candidate is fit for full certification.

But the authors found that some schools, principals, and support teams were failing to provide the required supervision and guidance.

"Some candidates had no substantial contact with their support teams at all, other than through the mentor teacher," the report says.

Recommendations

The authors offer the following recommendations for improving the program:

The amount of training required during the first year should be reduced significantly.

The state should establish an incentive program to encourage districts to hire provisional teachers early enough that they can complete their training over the summer.

State officials, the colleges of education, and districts should work together to provide training that is shorter, led by highly qualified veteran teachers, more closely related to the immediate needs of new teachers, and focused on providing them with coaching, counseling, and performance evaluation.

The state should monitor the school-support teams more closely, and should require districts to provide schools that hire provisional teachers with the resources to support them.

The report notes that some school officials in urban areas reported that they had been "taken advantage of" by some of the provisional teachers who, once they became certified, moved on to more desirable districts.

Mobility Curb Needed

The authors say they were reluctant to recommend that provisional teachers be required to stay for a specific length of time in the district that sponsored them for certification, but urged the state to "discourage the practice" of district-hopping.

Leo F. Klagholz, New Jersey's director of teacher preparation and certification, was away from the office last week and unavailable for comment.

The cbe's year-long study was funded by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. It included a review of existing literature and reports on the program; visits to the centers where the teachers receive their training; and interviews with state education officials, university faculty members, representatives of educational organizations, alternate-route teachers, the principals who hired them, and members of their supervisory teams.

The report also examines the state's academy for the advancement of teaching and management, created in 1984 to improve the professional development of practicing teachers and administrators.

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