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Report Pushes for More Flexible Certification Requirements

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States should do more to support alternative teacher-certification programs, in part by making licensure requirements more flexible, argues a newly released report by a Washington think tank.

The report, by the Center for American Progress, highlights the ongoing debate about teacher preparation and the merits of fast-track routes into the profession.

The report’s authors—Robin Chait, senior education policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, and Michele McLaughlin, vice president for federal and state policy for Teach For America—note that half of all alternative-certification programs were established within the last 15 years and about a third of teachers are now prepared through alternative routes.

They also cite a recent study by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. finding that students whose teachers completed alternative-certification programs performed similarly in math and reading to those with traditionally-certified teachers. And while traditional and alternative certifications produce equally effective teachers, Chait and McLaughlin argue, alternative routes have increased the number of teachers filling positions in high-needs subjects and high-poverty schools.

Focusing Requirements, Encouraging Growth

The authors describe several state policy changes needed to "minimize participant burden, ensure program quality, and encourage innovation and growth" among these programs. They suggest eliminating requirements that do not have a link to teacher effectiveness. For instance, some states require teachers to complete coursework and take a content exam, which Chait and McLaughlin describe as "doubling up" on licensing requirements. "The important factor is that the teacher has the content knowledge and can demonstrate it, rather than that the teacher completed a specific number of courses," they write.

Teachers who enter with previous content knowledge, they contend, should instead be permitted to take courses focused on instructional methods and classroom management, which would be more relevant to their teaching needs. Limiting coursework would also lower the cost of licensure for incoming teachers.

Chait and McLaughlin suggest that raising minimum standards such as requisite grade point averages and passing scores on licensure exams could make programs more selective, though they caution states not to raise them so high as to bar potentially effective teachers. The authors also emphasize the importance of implementing strong mentoring and induction programs, which have a demonstrated correlation to teacher retention.

'Extending the Pipeline'

At a Feb. 27 discussion in Washington following the report’s release, panelists expounded on the tension between creating high-quality programs that adequately prepare teachers and making the programs accessible to people with varied backgrounds. Co-author McLaughlin expressed her support for performance-based licensure systems with flexible regulations, saying, "It should be about what you’re able to do with kids in the classroom." She said that states need to embrace the idea that alternative certifications are just as valuable as traditional certifications.

However, Richelle Patterson, senior policy analyst at the National Education Association’s Teacher Quality Department, voiced disapproval of alternative-certification routes that promote only a two-year commitment. "Teach for America is a great recruitment model. But we can’t let our profession be defined by recruitment programs; we want a profession that retains people." She noted that when teachers leave, districts lose the money and resources that went into training them.

Scott Cartland, who recently left his principalship in an affluent Washington, D.C. community to take over a restructuring effort at a high-poverty school, responded by saying, "Everybody has issues with retention in urban and rural environments. There is no ed school that can guarantee people will stay [teaching] even past the first month—the environments are just that challenging."

Of the eleven new teachers Cartland hired last year, nine were from alternative-teaching routes because so few teachers from traditional routes were willing to work in the high-needs school. "It’s not about replacing the pipeline," he said, "it’s about expanding and extending the pipeline."

In response to the CAP report, the National Education Association also issued a policy brief warning against the de-regulation of teacher licensing requirements, stating that "the lack of uniformly applied standards for beginning teachers jeopardizes the quality of instruction available to all students." Consistent standards are necessary to maintain the integrity of the teaching profession, the NEA asserts.

According to report co-author Robin Chait, "It’s not about de-regulation, it’s about smart regulation."

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