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Alternative Certification for Teachers Is Examined

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Washington--New Jersey has "hit a gold mine of talent" with its alternate teacher-certification program, Saul Cooperman, the state's commissioner of education, said here last week at the Education Department's first conference on the controversial topic.

The one-day seminar, attended by approximately 250 state education department officials, researchers, teachers, and education-school faculty members, was hosted by the department's office of educational research and improvement.

Christopher T. Cross, the assistant secretary for the oeri, said the conference would help the department identify critical research questions about such methods of teacher certification.

"The Bush Administration believes that alternate certification is an idea whose time has come," Mr. Cross said. "Alternate certification could help plug several glaring gaps in the nation's teacher-and-principal supply."

New Jersey's program, begun in 1985, was among the first and best-known efforts to open classrooms to people without traditional undergraduate training in education. It has attracted, Mr. Cooperman said, a flood of high-quality candidates who outscore traditionally prepared teachers on the National Teacher Examinations.

Critics' Arguments

But critics of alternate routes charged that policymakers have failed to acknowledge the intellectual complexity of teaching by allowing new instructors to take their education-related coursework after entering the classroom.

Greater attention should be paid to improving the skills and preparation of all teachers, the critics said, regardless of how they may be certified.

"We need to send forth the idea that only people who know how to teach ought to be allowed to teach," said Arthur E. Wise, director of the rand Corporation's Center for the Study of the Teaching Profession.

According to the Education Department, 24 states have implemented some form of alternative-certification program.

The practice is a promising way of recruiting minorities into teaching, Mr. Cross noted, as well as of addressing teacher shortages in selected subject areas. In addition, he said, it gives schools and communities more flexibility in building their teaching forces.

President Bush has asked the Congress to appropriate $25 million to provide grants to states to support the development, implementation, and expansion of alternative-certification programs for teachers and principals.

The money could be used for a variety of purposes, according to the department, including to provide mentor teachers for the alternate-route candidates, to train staff members, or to establish administrative structures for the programs.--ab

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