The number of alternative programs that certify teachers skyrocketed from 12 in 1983 to 485 last year.
What’s more, in 2004-05, states issued teaching certificates to some 50,000 candidates who had entered teaching through alternative routes. Those individuals made up a third of all new teachers hired that year.
A new book from two longtime proponents of such means of getting licensed paints a thriving picture of alternative routes, starting with their arrival in the 1980s, as a solution to problems in teacher quality and supply, to their acceptance today by every state and the District of Columbia.
The caliber of such programs has risen dramatically over the years, said C. Emily Feistritzer, one of the authors of the book, Alternate Routes to Teaching, and the head of the National Center for Alternative Certification, based in Washington.
Some early criticism of alternative programs centered around concerns that they were fly-by-night operations that did not prepare teachers adequately. That, Ms. Feistritzer argued in a recent interview, is not the case anymore.
“Alternative-route programs that have been set up to be teacher mills don’t last because those who are hiring teachers are becoming more selective and do not just want warm bodies. … People who are selected are of a pretty high caliber, and so are the training programs they go through on site, working with school personnel,” she said.
Nearly half the participants in alternative-route programs would not have become teachers if such a route had not been available, Ms. Feistritzer said. Further, 52 percent of the men who were certified through such programs said they would not have entered the profession if such a route were not available, according to the book.
Proponents of alternative routes for teacher certification, including Ms. Feistritzer, often credit them with bringing more minority teachers into the profession. But some researchers in the past have said that the racial diversity in alternative programs appears to reflect local teacher markets.
Based on data from the U.S. Department of Education, Ms. Feistritzer and co-author Charlene K. Haar say that 33 percent of the teachers entering via alternative routes in 2003-04 were members of racial minorities. On the other hand, only 17 percent of recipients of bachelor’s degrees in traditional programs who went on to teach in 2003-04 were not white.
White teachers continue to dominate nationwide, even through alternative routes into the profession. The racial diversity of candidates in alternative programs generally reflects the demographic composition of the local teacher market, except when the program targets minority candidates, such as in Milwaukee.
SOURCE: Alternate Routes to Teaching
SOURCE: SRI International
But in a report in the March 2007 issue of Teachers College Record, two researchers at SRI International, a think-tank based in Menlo Park, Calif., further analyzed the contention that alternative routes attract more minority candidates.
They scrutinized seven alternative-route programs and agreed that such programs appear to have greater diversity. But delving deeper into the data, the sri researchers say, provides further insights: In Newark, N.J., for example, 59 percent of the alternative-certification teachers are African-American or Hispanic, the same percentage as minority teachers in the district as a whole.
There were exceptions, but those were in programs that specifically target minority members. For instance, said Daniel C. Humphrey, one of the SRI study’s authors, a program in Milwaukee had a primary goal of recruiting and preparing blacks and other minority candidates as teachers. In that program, 80 percent of the participants belonged to racial minority groups, although only 28 percent of the teachers in Milwaukee public school were members of minorities.
In other cases, the population of alternative-route teachers was slightly more or less racially diverse than the teaching corps of the districts in which they worked, the study found.
Use in NCLB Law
Critics of alternative routes to teacher licensure describe them as shortcuts to teaching, fault them as lacking rigor, and say they do not provide enough clinical experience before putting teachers in classrooms.
Aside from crediting them for attracting more male and minority teachers into the classroom, proponents, on the other hand, say teachers entering that way tend to be better educated, and suggest that such programs attract teachers in the shortage areas of mathematics and science.
What adds to the complicated picture of alternative routes is the limited research. Reports that do exist appear to conflict, at times, partly because of the wide variation among programs.
A 2005 study by researchers at Harvard University that tracked programs in four states found that the brief training and easy entrance requirements offered by those programs, while bringing more candidates into the classroom, compromised on quality.
But in 2006, the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, which runs alternative-route programs, tested 55 veteran teachers who entered the profession through its programs, and found that they could produce student outcomes equal to or greater than those of teachers licensed via traditional routes.
Ms. Feistritzer and Ms. Haar, the former president of the Washington-based Education Policy Institute, cite a handful of studies from some states to conclude that the route one takes does not seem to matter when it comes to effective teaching.
Looking forward, Ms. Feistritzer said, the use of alternative routes could increase dramatically if revised plans submitted by each state to the federal Education Department last year to meet requirements of “highly qualified” teachers under the No Child Left Behind Act are any indication.
Two states, Maine and West Virginia, that have not used alternative routes in the past created them to meet the requirements; 11 added routes to existing ones; 10 indicated they would expand existing alternative routes; and 21 said they would actively encourage alternative routes as a way to get all teachers qualified.
A version of this article appeared in the April 18, 2007 edition of Education Week