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Teacher Preparation

Alternative Routes Attracting Unlikely Candidates

By Linda Jacobson — February 23, 2005 4 min read
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Although tremendous differences exist in the features of alternative-certification programs that are now operating across the country, new research shows that they are attracting people who would not have entered teaching otherwise.

Findings just released here by the National Center for Alternative Certification show that 47 percent of those who are taking an alternative route said they would not have pursued a teaching career if it weren’t for such programs.

For many candidates, the most attractive part was that they could begin teaching right away while they simultaneously completed the requirements for their credentials. Eighty-six percent said being a “teacher of record” in a classroom was a very helpful part of the program.

The Washington-based center, which was established in 2003 to gather information in this realm of the teaching profession, collected data from providers of some 450 alternative-certification programs offered by universities, community colleges, school districts, and even state education departments.

Still, said C. Emily Feistritzer, the president of the center, more than 600 programs are currently operating, and about 35,000 new teachers are earning their certificates through alternative routes each year.

“I think what we’re looking at is a movement that is way beyond being derailed,” Ms. Feistritzer told more than 350 people gathered here Feb. 9-12 for the center’s second annual national conference.

The National Center for Alternative Certification was created with a $2.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

A Few Surprises

To get a clearer picture of just who is enrolled in alternative-certification programs and why they chose that path, the center surveyed participants in Troops to Teachers, which recruits men and women leaving military service; the New York City Teaching Fellows program, which has trained more than 6,000 teachers for the city’s schools; and alternative programs in Florida and Texas.

As expected, alternative routes are attracting more men, more minority candidates, and more older adults than typical teacher-preparation programs.

Thirty-eight percent of the alternative-program participants were men, compared with 25 percent of all new teachers nationally, the center’s data show. Among participants in those programs, 70 percent were older than 30, while 39 percent of all new teachers are 30-plus. And almost 30 percent of those earning certification through alternative means are nonwhite, compared with 20 percent of new teachers as a whole.

The survey respondents’ answers also suggest that taking nontraditional routes to certification is no longer a movement on the sidelines of education. Almost one-fourth of those surveyed were working in the education field before they enrolled in an alternative program.

Many people are using those opportunities to earn “highly qualified” status under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, or to earn certification in another state if they move, Ms. Feistritzer said.

“Alternative routes are increasingly being used by people who 10 years ago wouldn’t have touched one with a 10-foot pole,” she said.

‘Social Support’

While that might be surprising to some, the profile of those who are not using such programs might also be unexpected.

Elaine Chin, an education professor at California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo, has been collecting and analyzing data on nearly 2,900 participants in her state’s teacher-internship program, a nontraditional preparation program.

In a separate session at the conference, held here at a hotel within Walt Disney World, Ms. Chin said that at least in California, very few members of the military and very few engineers are switching their careers to teaching. “It just didn’t pan out,” she said of the idea that such people would be likely recruits.

Ms. Chin’s work focused on what is motivating interns to enter teaching and to choose nontraditional training programs. More than 80 percent of those she surveyed said they either had a close friend or a family member who was a teacher.

“Hidden social support may play a very important role in who comes and who stays [in teaching],” Ms. Chin said.

She also found that those who were the first in their families to go to college were more likely than those with college-educated parents to say that one reason they chose teaching was that they were looking for personal fulfillment.

Ms. Chin has also been interested in whether alternative- certification programs are meeting the need for teachers at hard-to-staff schools, and whether schools serving large numbers of minority children are hiring minority teachers.

She found that African-American and Latino interns were more likely than white and Asian-American interns to take jobs in schools that serve minority children as well as schools with disadvantaged students. Those are also schools where the other teachers are more likely to have emergency certificates—a finding that Ms. Chin found troubling.

Mentoring Missing

In the center’s data, culled from the 450 institutions and participants’ survey, meanwhile, Ms. Feistritzer also found some variation between what providers and participants were saying about alternative-certification programs.

One of the most striking differences focused on mentoring, which many experts say is necessary to help retain new teachers.

Of those offering alternative certification, 2 percent said their programs provided a few hours of time with a mentor every day, while 7 percent of the participants said contact was that frequent. Ten percent of the participants surveyed said they met with a mentor only every other week, while only 3 percent of the program providers gave that answer. Most of the providers and participants said meetings with a mentor took place once or a couple of times a week.

“The bottom line,” Ms. Feistritzer said, “is that there’s not a lot of mentoring going on.”

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A version of this article appeared in the February 23, 2005 edition of Education Week as Alternative Routes Attracting Unlikely Candidates

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