The state should ensure that its alternate routes provide efficient preparation that is relevant to the immediate needs of new teachers, as well as adequate mentoring and support.
Illinois requires candidates for Alternate Teacher Certification and
Alternative Route to Teacher Certification to complete a course of study in
education theory and instructional methods, but the state does not specify the
amount of coursework required. Teachers in the Resident Teacher Certification
program must complete a six-week intensive teacher preparation course the
summer prior to entering the classroom and then work toward a master's degree
Alternate Teacher Certification candidates have the opportunity for practice teaching, although the state does not provide guidance on this requirement. Candidates in the Alternative Route to Teacher Certification and the Resident Teacher Certification routes are mentored by a certified teacher assigned by the school district for the first year.
The state requires that alternate route programs require less time to complete than traditional programs. The current range for program completion is one and a half to two and a half years. However, teachers may apply for the Standard Teaching Certificate only after completing four years of teaching.
As of July 2013, Illinois implemented a new system of educator licensure. Alternative Certification, the Alternate Route to Certification and the Resident Teacher Certification Program will convert to an Educator License with Stipulations (ELS). There are no specific guidelines about the nature or quantity of coursework for the educator license with stipulations at this time. 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.
105 ILCS 5/21-5b; - 5c Illinois Alternative and Resident Teacher Certification Programs http://www.isbe.net/profprep/pdfs/alternate.pdf Illinois Educator Licensure FAQ http://www.isbe.state.il.us/licensure/pdf/ELIS-faq.pdf Educator License with Stipulations Endorsement Requirements http://www.isbe.state.il.us/licensure/requirements/ed-lic-w-stip.pdf
Simply mandating coursework without specifying the purpose can inadvertently send the wrong message to program providers—that "anything goes" as long as credits are granted. However constructive, any course that is not fundamentally practical and immediately necessary should be eliminated as a requirement.
While Illinois is commended for requiring Alternative Route to Teacher Certification and the Resident Teacher Certification teachers to work with a mentor, Alternate Teacher Certification teachers should also receive this support. In addition, the state should consider providing sufficient guidelines to ensure that the induction 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.
Although Illinois policy states that alternate route programs should be more streamlined than traditional preparation programs, the state should consider shortening the length of time it takes an alternate route teacher to earn standard certification. The route should allow candidates to earn full certification no later than the end of the second year of teaching.
Illinois was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis.
Illinois added that Alternative Preparation Programs are held to the same standards and expectations as all programs. These programs must be aligned to the Illinois Professional Teaching Standards, applicable content standards and all other required standards. The state also cited and quoted the specific requirements for alternate route programs found in state code.
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.
Alternate Route Preparation: Supporting Research
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 E.R. Ducharme and M.K. Ducharme, "Quantity and quality: Not enough to go around." Journal of Teacher Education, Volume 49, No. 3, May 1998, pp. 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 J.W. Miller, M.C. McKenna, and B.A. McKenna, "A comparison of alternatively and traditionally prepared teachers". Journal of Teacher Education, Volume 49, No. 3, May 1998, pp. 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, Volume 17, No. 1, Spring 2007, pp. 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: Final Report 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.