Alternate Route Preparation: Alabama

2011 Expanding the Pool of Teachers Policy

Goal

The state should ensure that its alternate routes provide streamlined preparation that is relevant to the immediate needs of new teachers.

Nearly meets
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Alternate Route Preparation: Alabama results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/AL-Alternate-Route-Preparation-7

Analysis of Alabama's policies

Although Alabama offers an alternate route with streamlined preparation, it could do more to meet the immediate needs of new teachers.

Candidates in the Alternative Baccalaureate Level Certificate route are required to complete a maximum of 12 semester hours of approved coursework. Coursework includes training in classroom management, the evaluation of teaching and learning, strategies for teaching special needs students in inclusive settings and methods of teaching in the teaching field and grade level of the teacher. 

There are no specific guidelines about the nature or quantity of coursework for the Preliminary Certificate Approach route. There is no limit on the amount of coursework that can be required overall, nor on the amount of coursework a candidate can be required to take while also teaching.

Applicants in both routes are assigned a mentor for the duration of the program. The state does not require a practice-teaching opportunity. Preliminary candidates may be eligible for a standard certificate within two years, although a third year may be granted. ABC candidates can earn certification in three years and must complete at least two courses each year to maintain certification.

Citation

Recommendations for Alabama

Establish coursework guidelines for all alternate route preparation programs.
While Alabama is commended for specifying the nature and amount of coursework to be completed by ABC candidates, the state should also articulate guidelines for Preliminary Certificate candidates. 

Strengthen the induction experience for new teachers.
Although Alabama requires all new teachers to work with a mentor, there are insufficient guidelines indicating that the mentoring program is structured for new teacher success. Effective strategies include practice teaching prior to teaching in the classroom, intensive mentoring with full classroom support in the first few weeks or months of school, a reduced teaching load and release time to allow new teachers to observe experienced teachers during each school day. 

State response to our analysis

Alabama was helpful in providing facts that enhanced NCTQ's analysis. The state also reiterated that ABC candidates complete a maximum of four courses, which usually total 12 semester hours. The state also asserted that candidates under the Preliminary Certificate approach are not required to complete any additional coursework and, if courses were required, that requirement would have been clearly articulated in state rules.

Alabama strongly contended that for both the ABC and Preliminary Certificate approaches the assignment of a mentor obviates the need for a practice-teaching opportunity since alternate route applicants are already the teacher of record. The state also explained that it would like to be able to provide all new teachers with the components of the mentoring system that NCTQ recommends, but because of budget cuts, the state is unable to do so.

Last word

In an ideal situation, no alternate route teacher would become the teacher of record without some prior practice-teaching experience, however limited. But NCTQ agrees with the state that when this is not possible, a strong induction program is a reasonable compromise. Unfortunately, Alabama's requirements are too limited to ensure that these new teachers will get the intensive support they need as they begin their teaching careers. 

How we graded

Alternate route programs must provide practical, meaningful preparation that is sensitive to a new teacher's stress level.

Too many states have policies requiring alternate route programs to "backload" large amounts of traditional education coursework, thereby preventing the emergence of real alternatives to traditional preparation. This issue is especially important given the large proportion of alternate route teachers who complete this coursework while teaching. Alternate route teachers often have to deal with the stresses of beginning to teach while also completing required coursework in the evenings and on weekends. States need to be careful to require participants only to meet standards or complete coursework that is practical and immediately helpful to a new teacher.

Induction support is especially important for alternate route teachers.

Most new teachers—regardless of their preparation—find themselves overwhelmed on taking responsibility for their own classrooms. This is especially true for alternate route teachers, who may have had considerably less classroom exposure or pedagogy training than traditionally prepared teachers. While alternate route programs will ideally have provided at least a brief student teaching experience, not all programs can incorporate this into their models. States must ensure that alternate route programs do not leave new teachers to "sink or swim" on their own when they begin teaching.

Research rationale

For a general, quantitative review of the research supporting the need for states to offer an alternate route license, and why alternate routes should not be treated as programs of "last resort," one need simply to look at the numbers of uncertified and out of field teachers in classrooms today, readily available from the National Center for Education Statistics. In addition, with U.S. schools facing the need to hire more than 3.5 million new teachers each year, the need for alternate routes to certification cannot be underestimated. See also Ducharme, E. R. & Ducharme, M. K. (1998). "Quantity and quality: Not enough to go around." Journal of Teacher Education, 49(3), 163-164.

Further, scientific and market research demonstrates that there is a willing and able pool of candidates for alternate certification programs—and many of these individuals are highly educated and intelligent. In fact, the nationally respected polling firm, The Tarrance Group, recently conducted a scientific poll in the State of Florida, identifying that more than 20 percent of Floridians would consider changing careers to become teachers through alternate routes to certification.

We base our argument that alternative-route teachers should be able to earn full licensure after two years on research indicating that teacher effectiveness does not improve dramatically after the third year of teaching. One study (frequently cited on both sides of the alternate route debate) identified that after three years, traditional and alternatively-certified teachers demonstrate the same level of effectiveness, see Miller, J. W., McKenna, M. C., & McKenna, B. A. (1998). Nontraditional teacher preparation: A comparison of alternatively and traditionally prepared teachers. Journal of Teacher Education, 49(3), 165-176. This finding is supported by D. Boyd,  D. Goldhaber,  H. Lankford, and J. Wyckoff, "The Effect of Certification and Preparation on Teacher Quality." The Future of Children (2007): 45-68. 

Project MUSE (http://muse.jhu.edu/), found that student achievement was similar for alternatively-certified teachers as long as the program they came from was "highly selective."

The need for a cap on education coursework and the need for intensive mentoring are also backed by research, as well as common sense. In 2004, Education Commission of the States reviewed more than 150 empirical studies and determined that there is evidence "for the claim that assistance for new teachers, and, in particular, mentoring [have] a positive impact on teachers and their retention." The 2006 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher validates these conclusions. In addition, Mathematica (2009) found that student achievement suffers when alternate route teachers are required to take excessive amounts of coursework. See An Evaluation of Teachers Trained Through Different Routes to Certification at: http://www.mathematica-mpr.com/publications/pdfs/education/teacherstrained09.pdf

See also Alternative Certification Isn't Alternative (NCTQ, 2007) at: http://www.nctq.org/p/publications/docs/Alternative_Certification_Isnt_Alternative_20071124023109.pdf.