New research findings provide fresh fodder for debates over whether teachers who skip traditional education school training are more demographically diverse than their colleagues, and whether they provide special expertise in math or science.
The findings, presented here at a Sept. 16 conference sponsored by the U.S. Education Department’s Institute of Education Sciences, come from a study tracking teachers who entered the profession via seven alternative-certification programs scattered around the country.
“The thing that struck us was the tremendous variation among program participants, and among programs,” said Daniel C. Humphrey, the study’s lead author and the associate director of the Center on Education Policy at SRI International, a think tank based in Menlo Park, Calif. “A lot of the characterizations we’ve heard turned out to be inaccurate.”
More than half the alternative-route teachers the SRI researchers studied were either recent college graduates or were already involved in education, working in schools as classroom aides or private school teachers, for example. Only 5 percent of the participants previously had worked in math and science fields, the study found.
Those findings cut against some advocates’ claims that alternatively certified teachers tend to be midcareer professionals who often bring needed expertise in mathematics and science to schools, the researchers said.
Two percent of respondents came from the legal profession; 6 percent were in finance or accounting; and 59 percent got a pay raise when they became teachers.
The study, financed by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, surveyed more than 1,000 of 8,000-plus would-be teachers who joined such programs in the 2003-04 school year, both when they entered the programs and toward the end of their first year on the job.
The researchers also visited 10 to 13 teachers from each program for a closer look at their on-the-job experiences. The study was one of several presented at the conference. Its findings were published recently by Teachers College Record.
The SRI study also addressed the question of whether alternate routes to teaching bring more men and people from minority backgrounds into the classroom.
Overall, members of racial and ethnic minorities accounted for 40 percent of the participants in the programs studied—well above the national average for the teaching profession.
But the percentages varied markedly from program to program. In the North Carolina Teachers of Excellence for All Children program, an initiative aimed at career-switchers known as NC TEACH, 23 percent of the teacher-candidates came from minority groups. That was far lower than the 80 percent minority representation in Milwaukee’s Multicultural Teacher Education Program.
“We assumed they were going to be more diverse than the general population,” Mr. Humphrey said, “but they actually mirrored the local labor market.”
Pool Largely Female
The alternative routes the researchers studied tended to draw percentages of men that were slightly higher than the proportion of males in the nation’s teaching force. But the candidate pool was still overwhelmingly female, they said.
Among the participants at the IES conference who questioned the think tank’s findings was Michael Podgursky, an economics professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He suggested that the researchers should have compared the alternate-route teachers to new teachers entering the same schools though more traditional routes, rather than from the local labor pool.
The study’s findings differ from those of a survey published earlier this year by the National Center for Education Information, a private Washington-based research group that tracks alternative-certification programs. That survey found higher percentages of men and older career-switchers taking alternate routes into the field.
C. Emily Feistritzer, the author of that report and the center’s president, said she stands by her study, in part because it was based on a larger group of respondents—2,647 alternatively certified teachers.
Besides NC TEACH and the Milwaukee program, the programs the SRI researchers tracked were: the New Jersey Provisional Teacher Program; the Texas Region XIII Education Service Center’s Educator Certification Program; the New York City Teaching Fellows; Teach for America; and the Teacher Education Institute in California’s Elk Grove Unified School District.
A version of this article appeared in the September 28, 2005 edition of Education Week as Teachers From Alternate Routes Scrutinized