Teacher Preparation

A Route-to-Teaching Rumble in ESEA Amendments

By Stephen Sawchuk — October 18, 2011 2 min read
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Just when you think everyone’s ready to move on from the seemingly endless debate about traditional teacher preparation vs. alternative certification, along comes something to remind you that that old war is still being actively waged.

Exhibit A comes in the form of amendments that Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is prepared to offer Wednesday on a committee markup of the Harkin-Enzi ESEA reauthorization bill.

One of the amendments would disallow teachers in alternative routes from being deemed “highly qualified,” as is currently the case. Only those teachers that had “fully completed” their programs, or had passed an assessment of teacher performance, could be called highly qualified.

The other one would require districts to disclose to parents that their teachers have not completed their teacher-preparation program, and to assign a mentor to such teachers.

These amendments draw something of a line in the sand on the issue of alternative routes. Such routes would either have to restructure their programming significantly, so that students complete all their coursework before becoming the teacher of record; or districts would have to send these notices to every single parent whose child is taught by an alt-route teacher.

Dueling interests have lined up on both sides of the debate, sending letters to the Congress with their arguments pro and con.

One such letter comes from something called the “Coalition for Teaching Quality,” which includes the National Education Association and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, among many others. Several of the members were heavily involved in a lawsuit over HQT in California. The coalition supports the amendments, saying teachers still in training (as most alt-route teachers are) should not be called “highly qualified.”

: Corrects the name of the Coalition for Teaching Quality.

The other comes from the New Teacher Project, itself a provider of teachers. It argues the parental-notification language would effectively prevent districts from hiring alternatively certified teachers, and shut out routes to teaching that have been shown to do well on value-added analyses.

Republicans have tended to favor alternative routes, so to put it bluntly, these amendments may not have enough votes to pass out of committee. (And if Tennessee’s Sen. Lamar Alexander succeeds in an attempt to strip the “highly qualified” provisions out of the bill altogether, this whole debate may also be a moot point.)

As for the research on all of this: Essentially, it’s hard to draw conclusions about teacher training routes at a meta-level. Several high-quality research syntheses have concluded that there’s not enough evidence to favor one avenue over the other.

There are some common-sense reasons for this basic finding. Training programs themselves are astoundingly different in what they require of candidates in terms of coursework, length of field experience, and so on. Teacher training is not like law school, where everyone essentially takes torts and contracts and con-law, and so it’s probably not surprising that there isn’t a whole lot that can be said in general about it.

At a more micro-level, there are, of course, good and lousy traditional programs, and there are good and lousy alternative programs. Policymakers don’t yet have finely-grained ways of distinguishing among programs, but some new methods, like the value-added analyses, are starting to come online.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.