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.
Minnesota requires that alternate route programs provide a minimum of 200
instructional hours to candidates before they can assume classroom
responsibilities. The state provides no specific guidelines about the nature of
the coursework for its alternate route except to say that it should be
research-based and focused on best practices. There is also no limit on the
overall amount of coursework, nor on the amount of coursework a candidate can
be required to take while also teaching.
The state requires alternate route programs in partnership with districts to provide "intensive, ongoing, and multiyear mentoring and induction support for new teachers," but no further details or definitions are articulated.
Candidates are issued a two-year limited term license while completing the alternate route program. In some cases the state will renew this limited license one additional time for a one-year term. Upon completion, alternate route candidates may be recommended for the standard teaching certificate.
Minnesota Statutes 122A.245
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. Appropriate coursework should include grade-level or subject-level seminars, methodology in the content area, classroom management, assessment and scientifically based early reading instruction.
While requiring some preparation prior to entering the classroom is important, Minnesota requires alternate route candidates to take a considerable amount of coursework before they begin teaching, an amount more typically associated with a traditional preparation program. All coursework requirements should be manageable for career changers and other nontraditional candidates and contribute to the immediate needs of new teachers.
Minnesota should provide more detailed induction guidelines to ensure that new teachers will receive the support they need to facilitate their success in the classroom. 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.
Minnesota declined to respond to NCTQ's analyses.
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.