Should we care where teachers come from?

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A report out from the National Center for Education Information on the profile of teachers hired in the past decade has garnered a lot of attention in the past couple of weeks — particularly its striking finding that approximately 40 percent of teachers hired since 2005 came through alternative certification routes.

What does this mean for teacher preparation and K-12 education more broadly? We thought providing some context might be useful.

Here's a chart, based on data from Title II reports from the Department of Education, on the numbers of graduates from alternative and traditional teacher preparation programs over the last decade (no data is available for 2005-6):

The number of graduates from alternative certification programs has certainly expanded in the past decade. But if NCEI's survey sample accurately reflects the national pool of teachers, then districts are hiring alternatively certified teachers at roughly twice the rate at which they are being produced.

If this is happening, the reasons are not clear. It could be that a lot of people who go through traditional teacher preparation programs never intend to teach. Perhaps districts prefer teachers from alternative certification programs over traditionally trained teachers. Or it may not be happening and the difference simply reflects problems with the data sets. These issues bear further investigation.

In any case, it's also worthwhile to keep in mind that a lot of the discussion of "alt-cert vs. traditional teacher prep" is beside the point. Around half of all alternative certification programs are actually housed in the same schools of education that produce traditionally certified teachers. So, not surprisingly, NCTQ has found that there's not all that much difference between the two pathways into the teaching profession.

And in terms of what matters most — student achievement — there's no evidence that teachers from alternative certification programs out-perform those from traditional teacher preparation programs. So perhaps we should focus more on what good teacher preparation looks like rather than on largely nominal distinctions about where teachers come from.

Glynis Startz and Arthur McKee