Demand grows for alternative certification

Emily Feistritzer has been collecting data on alternative ways to certify teachers for the classroom since 1983. Once scorned by the teaching establishment, alternative certification is now available in 41 states, along with the District of Columbia. It allows prospective teachers to bypass traditional four-year undergraduate programs in favor of more on-the-job training. Features of these programs - such as mentoring and extensive classroom teaching experience - are spilling over into traditional schools of education.

A former teacher, Dr. Feistritzer currently directs the National Center for Education Information in Washington, where she spoke with the Monitor. Excerpts follow:

On the value of alternate routes:

There's a demand for alternate routes at the state and local levels, because there are shortages in the classroom; but you also have a demand from people who want to become teachers later in life. There is a new market, and this demand has forced institutions to be more responsive.

On prospects for change:

I feel increasingly optimistic, because different groups and factions are much more open to the possibility that there are people out there that might be open to teaching - people who have raised their families, people from other careers or from retirement, liberal-arts graduates who decide after they've gotten their first degree that they might like to teach. There is an openness to designing programs for these post-baccalaureate people now, where there wasn't five or 10 years ago.

On early opposition:

When New Jersey started developing alternative routes for bringing people into teaching [in 1984], there was a tremendous backlash from the traditional colleges of education, less so from the unions. The very notion of developing alternative routes for nontraditional candidates for teaching met with much criticism without much content. The conclusion was drawn immediately that these were 'fast track' or 'scab' programs; they were seen as 'less than.'

On what made a difference:

Now, 15 years later, enough nontraditional people have gone into teaching that there is data that show that the academic caliber of these people is quite high and that their ability to teach is impressive. Also, that the programs that have been designed to prepare them for teaching have proven to be very successful.

On targeting training to the need:

The training needed for an adult who has had experiences in the workplace, in the military, raising children, or working with children ... is really different than that needed for an 18-year-old going to college for the first time and majoring in education. So, it's a good idea to have more than one route.

On linking training to jobs:

Nationally ... from one-third to 40 percent of those who train to teach in traditional programs do not teach. The alternate-route people generally go into teaching because the programs are tied to jobs - they're not just coming out of a teaching mill. That's important to note.

On teacher diversity:

My research shows that 41 percent of alternate-route people are willing to teach in inner cities and outlying rural areas, while less than 10 percent of people training ... in traditional college-based programs want to teach in such areas of need. Also, people coming in through alternative routes are much more representative of minority populations and men. For example, 90 percent of the teachers coming through the Troops to Teacher program are men. In California, 45 percent who came into teaching through alternative certification were members of an ethnic group underrepresented in teaching.

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