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Polish off an apple for alternative teaching certification
Scripps Howard News Service


June 17, 2005

Alternative routes to teacher certification are providing an increasing share of the nation's new teachers, and most of them say they would never have gone into teaching if they had to do it the traditional way.

Compared with the profession as a whole, these new teachers are more likely to be men, more likely to be African-American or Hispanic, more likely to be teaching in high-demand fields such as mathematics and special education and more likely to be teaching in big cities. As all of these are things are broadly considered desirable, it's a welcome trend.

Emily Feistritzer, writing for the National Center for Education Information, has compiled a demographic "Profile of Alternate Route Teachers." The center has been studying alternative certification since 1983 and says that 538 programs in 47 states and the District of Columbia produced an estimated 35,000 teachers in 2004.

That sounds small compared with the 200,000 graduates who complete a traditional teacher-ed program, but there's one important difference, Feistritzer says. Only 40 percent of those traditional graduates are actually teaching a year later, according to the U.S. Department of Education, while nearly all the teachers who have taken the alternative route are still in the classroom the following year.

A word about alternat(iv)e terminology. Feistritzer herself alternates between these alternatives. I think "alternate" is wrong, but then I'm a pedant. Since both terms are in use, the center treats them as synonymous.

"Success breeds success," Feistritzer observes. "In the past decade, alternative teacher certification has evolved as a respectable practice and has spawned many new pathways that provide excellent preparation and training for a career in teaching. The primary reason for this development is that alternative routes to teacher certification are one of the few truly market-driven phenomena in American education."

The chance to earn certification while teaching _ that is, having a regular job and the salary that goes with it _ was listed as a "very important" reason for choosing an alternative program by more than three-quarters of the people surveyed. Ninety percent of them were teaching full time, as the teacher of record.

And they seem to be happy with their choice; more than 80 percent say they would recommend it to others, and another 15 percent say they might do so.

The survey was sent to more than 8,000 people who were in or had completed an alternative program in Texas, Florida, Milwaukee or New York City, as well as people in the Troops to Teachers program. Usable responses were received from 2,647 people. That's a respectable response rate, 35 percent overall, but it can't answer the question of whether the people who returned their surveys are representative of the whole group.

Though some of these teachers were in education before, most came from other fields, with 40 percent reporting that they had held a professional job the year before they started their programs. Unsurprisingly, they are well educated, with 60 percent having a bachelor's degree (almost all in a subject other than education) and 37 percent a master's degree.

Men make up 37 percent of the group, compared with 25 percent for all teachers. By ethnicity, 13 percent are African American and 14 percent are Hispanic. In big cities, the proportion of new teachers who are people of color is even higher, reaching 38 percent.

That's quite remarkable, given that for teachers as a group, the proportion is only 11 percent. And it comes close to matching the population as a whole, which is even more remarkable because rates of college graduation are low in both groups.

I don't hold with the notion that every aspect of human society ought to be racially proportionate or that children can learn only from someone who looks like them, but on the other hand, increasing the number of qualified and effective teachers of color is a very positive development.

Although the need to earn a living while making a career change may be paramount among the reasons people choose an alternative route, the prospect of having to take hours and hours of dreary education courses in a traditional program is surely a factor too.

Feistritzer did discover one intriguing tidbit. Nearly 40 percent of the teachers taking an alternative route took no college education courses at all, but they were more likely to say that education methods courses were "very valuable" than people who actually took them.

Also, Feistritzer says, "Respondents who say they did not take college courses in education report higher levels of satisfaction with the job overall, relationship with the principal, with parents of students, with the curriculum, textbooks, general working conditions, status of teachers, and sense of freedom and classroom autonomy and plan to stay in teaching longer than do college education course-takers."

Perhaps traditional programs should be thinking about why that might be.


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Contact Linda Seebach of the Rocky Mountain News at

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