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States Offer Alternative Paths to Teacher Licensing

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Forty states now offer alternatives to the traditional education school route to teacher licensure, a new survey has found, up dramatically from only eight in 1983.

While the programs vary widely, the newest alternatives require formal instruction in the theory and practice of teaching along with mentoring arrangements that pair novice teachers with experienced classroom veterans, the report says.

The study, "Alternative Teacher Certification: A State-by-State Analysis,'' was conducted by C. Emily Feistritzer, the director of the National Center for Education Information, and her associate, David Chester. It examines the growing interest among states in creating ways to augment the teaching force by certifying nontraditional candidates quickly.

The center estimates that 40,000 people were certified to teach through alternative means between 1985 and 1992, more than half of them during the past two years.

Eleven states offer programs with formal instruction and mentoring that allow individuals with bachelor's degrees to become licensed to teach all subjects and grade levels.

Eight states offer such programs only for secondary school teaching or for subject areas where there is a teacher shortage.

Although the initial goal of such programs was to help stave off a projected teacher shortage, the report says, states are now motivated primarily by "a desire to improve teacher quality.''

The language of legislation creating alternative-certification measures, for example, now typically mentions the need to increase the quality of the teaching force, Ms. Feistritzer said in an interview.

"When alternate teacher certification came on the map, it was so strongly associated with shortages and shortcuts to becoming a teacher that states taking it quite seriously felt they had to deal with the quality issue,'' she said.

When the shortages that were forecast failed to materialize, approaches based on quality "also became a way to justify bringing more people into teaching,'' she added.

'Dusting Off' Provisions

While the number of states offering alternative-certification programs has grown fivefold since 1983, when the N.C.E.I began collecting its data, the definition of such programs has changed substantially in recent years.

Until 1990, most states had simply "dusted off'' their existing provisions for emergency certification, making little attempt to design programs that would offer a coordinated induction into teaching, the report says.

The organization's 1991 survey of 50 states and the District of Columbia found that states are now reserving the term "alternative certification'' for "new programs designed specifically to bring high-quality adults who already have at least a bachelor's degree--and many of whom have considerable life experience--into the teaching profession.''

The other types of "alternative routes'' described by the states, the report notes, were emergency teaching certificates, waivers, and other arrangements that allow people to begin teaching while they complete the standard teacher-education requirements for licensure.

The states that now have "true'' alternative programs--with no restrictions on which grades or subjects the candidates for licensure can teach--are Colorado, Connecticut, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and West Virginia, the report says.

States that require mentoring and formal instruction, but limit the subjects or grade levels that can be taught by alternatively certified teachers, are Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio.

Who Wants To Teach?

In addition to the education department survey, the N.C.E.I also conducted two other surveys between Oct. 1, 1991, and Aug. 15, 1992, to determine who is seeking to become a teacher and who is actually getting hired.

The center surveyed 1,003 adults who inquired about alternative routes to teaching through the U.S. Department of Education, the N.C.E.I, or Recruiting New Teachers, a nonprofit organization.

The third survey was completed by 57 school district personnel officers across the nation, including those in 15 districts that enroll more than 100,000 students, 30 that enroll between 50,000 and 99,999 students, three that enroll 25,000 to 49,999 students, and 9 enrolling fewer than 10,000 students.

Although nearly 80 percent of newly hired teachers are women and 10 percent are members of minority groups, the survey found significant interest in teaching among men and members of minority groups.

More than half--54 percent--of the survey respondents who said they were interested in teaching were male, and 17 percent were nonwhite.

Six out of 10 respondents said they had never taught before; the rest were either teaching at some level or had previously taught.

One-fourth of the people who inquired about alternative certification were already employed in education: 12 percent were teaching at the precollegiate level, 3 percent at the postsecondary level, and 9 percent were working in some other occupation in education.

Despite their expressed interest in teaching, nearly two-thirds of the survey respondents had not applied for a teaching position within the past five years.

When asked why, 24 percent of the respondents said they had decided to stay in their current job. Of those working in a field outside of education, 34 percent said they "did not want to go back to college to take requisite courses to meet requirements for teaching credentials,'' and 27 percent said they either could not find or could not get into an alternative-certification program.

Ms. Feistritzer said her research indicated that men tended to be "turned off pretty early in the process'' of inquiring about teaching jobs, often after learning about "cumbersome'' requirements or being treated rudely by personnel officials.

Unfilled Positions

The survey of personnel officials in the 57 selected districts revealed that 30 districts had not filled all of their teaching positions as of Oct. 1, 1991. Two districts--the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Chicago public schools--accounted for nearly 75 percent of the 2,030 vacancies reported by the districts surveyed.

Positions also were considered vacant if they were temporarily filled by a substitute teacher.

Los Angeles reported having 1,037 vacancies, while Chicago reported 424. Of Chicago's vancancies, 400 were in special education, while the L.A.U.S.D. reported vacancies across a wide range of subjects and grades.

Over all, special education accounted for 36 percent of all vacancies reported. Districts reported relatively few vacancies in mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology.

The districts reported that 53 percent of those hired were recent college graduates, 21 percent were teachers moving from other districts, 13 percent were substitutes, 7 percent were former teachers, and 5 percent were people from other fields.

Copies of "Who Wants to Teach'' are available for $29.50 each; the alternative-certification study is available for $38.95. Both can be orderd from the N.C.E.I, 4401-A Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 212, Washington, D.C. 20008.

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