A boom in providers that offer alternative routes to teacher credentials in Texas has sparked a move by the state to set higher standards for preparation programs.
In what some say is a long-overdue step, the state board for educator certification is calling for all candidates entering alternative teacher-preparation programs to have a minimum grade point average of 2.5, and 300 hours of training, including 30 hours of clinical experience. Programs will also be expected to provide mentoring support to candidates.
The proposed standards have yet to be approved by members of the certification board, who will meet Oct. 10. Thereafter, they would need approval by the state board of education.
“We hope this is going to help every [teacher-preparation program] in the state have some minimum standards and consistency, so when a consumer and individual goes into an active program, they will have some minimum expectations,” said Karen Loonam, the deputy associate commissioner of educator certification and standards for the certification board.
The standards will cover traditional teacher-preparation programs as well, but are not expected to affect them because most colleges and universities already have equal or stricter requirements for prospective teachers to meet. For many alternative routes, the proposed standards represent a major change since the state does not now mandate a minimum for GPA or training hours.
Vernon Reaser, the president of Texas Teachers, a for-profit teacher-preparation route that now trains candidates in six Texas cities—including Austin, Dallas, and Houston—said the proposed standards would reduce the applicant pool of teachers for the state’s schools by 50 percent to 60 percent. Mr. Reaser said that 97 percent of the candidates admitted by his program have a GPA of at least 2.5, but that meeting the requirement for more training hours would be difficult.
“We have to look at what is possible and realistic,” said Mr. Reaser. “Otherwise, you are going to end up with a bunch of substitutes [in classrooms] instead of qualified teachers.”
Alternative teacher-certification programs have experienced a boom nationwide in the past decade. The Washington-based National Center for Alternative Certification reports that all states now have at least one such route.
C. Emily Feistritzer, the president of the private center, said most states have minimum standards that alternative-certification providers have to meet. New Jersey, for instance, now requires all teacher-candidates entering alternative routes to have a minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.75.
Texas has experienced some of the most dramatic growth in alternative programs, which are aimed at licensing candidates who did not graduate from traditional teacher-preparation programs.
Of the 146 teacher-preparation programs in Texas, 76 are alternative programs, including 20 run by private, for-profit groups. Alternative routes, in fact, now provide 42 percent of the new teachers hired in Texas schools.
The rapid growth has raised warning flags among those who hire teachers.
Marcia Daniels, the executive director of human resources for the 63,000-student El Paso Independent School District, who served on a committee that weighed the new standards, said that while some programs do a good job, there is concern that some of the for-profit programs do not have high enough standards for admission.
“This is a way to level the field,” said Ms. Daniels, the past president of the Texas Association of School Personnel Administrators.
But others say the standards fall well below their expectations.
Paul T. Henley, a teaching and learning specialist with the Texas State Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, points to a loophole in the proposed 2.5 minimum GPA: Each program can exempt up to 10 percent of its candidates from the requirement if they are otherwise exceptionally qualified.
Mr. Henley worries that alternative-certification providers will exploit the loophole.
“It is hard to be a teacher, but it is easy to get certified in this state,” he said. “[Alternative certification] has become a business. They are here to make money and may or may not care about public school success.”
Among other changes, Mr. Henley said, his association would like to see the minimum number of hours of training raised to 380, instead of 300. That amount of preparation is critical, he said, because alternative-route teachers often end up teaching in high-need schools.
Mr. Henley also wants more than the 30 hours of clinical training called for in the proposed standards. That is the change that alternative programs most oppose.
Mr. Reaser, whose program prepares nearly 2,000 new teachers each year, said the requirement would be almost impossible to meet. Right now, he said, candidates going through his program spend 18 hours in a classroom. But, he said, schools are already saturated with student-teachers, and it would be difficult to find schools willing to admit candidates for more hours.
He instead proposed using technology, including live video streams and recorded videos of classrooms, to train aspiring teachers.
Ms. Daniels said she also would like candidates to get more field experience than proposed, “but with the shortage [of teachers] out there, there had to be a compromise.”
“Everyone thinks that because they attended school, they can teach school,” she said, adding that classroom management can be learned only though firsthand experience. Her district, she said, has lost potentially good teachers because they had no clinical experience before becoming full-fledged teachers.
A version of this article appeared in the September 17, 2008 edition of Education Week as Texas Eyes Tighter Rules for Teacher-Candidates in Alternative Pathways