Alternate Route Preparation: Massachusetts

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.

Meets in part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Alternate Route Preparation: Massachusetts results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/MA-Alternate-Route-Preparation-7

Analysis of Massachusetts's policies

Although Massachusetts does offer some key components of a quality alternate route program, it could do more to meet the immediate needs of new teachers.

There are no coursework or clock hour limitations on alternate route programs in Massachusetts. All classes must be directly linked to state standards and include classroom management and observations of other teachers. Elementary candidates must also complete coursework in mathematics, English and reading instruction.

Candidates complete a pre-practicum experience prior to entering the classroom. There is no required number of hours, although the state recommends a minimum of 25 hours. Candidates are required to complete a 150-hour minimum practicum and are provided a mentor throughout the school year. Release time is provided for the new teacher during the first five months of employment. 

Candidates can receive full certification after three years.

Citation

Recommendations for Massachusetts

Establish coursework guidelines for alternate route preparation programs.
Massachusetts is commended for the nature of its coursework requirements, but the state does not ensure that alternate route candidates receive streamlined preparation. The state should articulate guidelines regarding the amount of coursework required of candidates. Too many courses can be counterproductive to a teacher's success. The state should ensure that a new teacher's workload is limited to one course at a time while teaching. Requirements should be manageable and contribute to the immediate needs of new teachers. 

Ensure program completion in less than two years.
Massachusetts 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.

Strengthen the induction experience for new teachers.
While Massachusetts is commended for requiring all new teachers to work with a mentor and for providing release time to new teachers, there are insufficient guidelines indicating that the induction program is structured for new teacher success.  

State response to our analysis

Massachusetts asserted that there are no limitations on when a teacher can earn licensure through an alternative route. The state also pointed to its standards for induction programs for teachers.

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.