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.
Most Practitioner Teacher Program candidates participate in nine credit hours, or the equivalent of 135 contact hours, in Summer Preparation Sessions. Grades PreK-3 as well as General-Special Education Mild/Moderate candidates must complete 12 credit hours or the equivalent of 180 contact hours. Elementary coursework topics include instruction in child development or psychology, the diverse learner, classroom management/organization, assessment and instructional design/strategies. Special education coursework topics include methodology, behavior management (classroom management of students with disabilities),
curriculum-based assessment/IEP, vocational transition, reading and literacy,
foundations of special education, and child and adolescent psychology.
Practitioner Teachers participate in two seminars (12 credit hours) during the school year and receive one-on-one mentoring support through an internship.
Program providers, principals, mentors and practitioner teachers form teams to review and evaluate first-year teaching performance. If a practitioner teacher demonstrates weaknesses, a prescriptive plan of up to nine credit hours or 135 contact hours will be implemented. Candidates are eligible to earn full certification after one year and all program requirements must be met within three years.
Master's Degree Alternative Certificate Program certificates must complete a total of 33-39 credit hours. Fifteen credit hours must be coursework on "The Learner and the Learning Environment," 12-15 credit hours are in methods and six-nine credits are required for student teaching or an internship. Special Education candidates substitute six-nine credit hours of methodology for reading instruction.
Non-Masters/Certification-Only Program candidates must complete 27-33 credit hours within three years. The Certification-Only program includes 80 hours of classroom readiness training focused on instructional design and delivery and classroom management. The Certification-Only route also requires candidates to complete 12 credit hours of coursework on "The Learner and the Learning Environment," as well as six credit hours of student teaching and six credit hours of methodology coursework. Program requirements must be met within three years.
The Practitioner Teacher Program and the Certification-Only program provide new teachers with mentoring support during the first year of teaching, with support for additional years if necessary.
Ensure that new teachers are not burdened by excessive requirements.
Alternate route programs should not be permitted to overburden the new teacher by requiring multiple courses to be taken simultaneously during the school year. Louisiana should also ensure that the program can be completed within two years.
Establish coursework guidelines for all alternate route preparation programs.
Louisiana should ensure that coursework requirements are contribute to the immediate needs of new teachers. Appropriate coursework should include grade-level or subject-level seminars, methodology in the content area, assessment and scientifically based early reading instruction.
Extend induction to all alternate route teachers.
While Louisiana is commended for requiring Practitioner Program and Certification-Only teachers to work with a mentor, all new teachers should 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.
Louisiana recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.
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://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED504313.pdf
See also Alternative Certification Isn't Alternative (NCTQ, 2007) at: http://www.nctq.org/p/publications/docs/Alternative_Certification_Isnt_Alternative_20071124023109.pdf.