Alternate Route Preparation: Minnesota

2015 Expanding the Pool of Teachers Policy

Goal

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.

Meets a small part

Analysis of Minnesota's policies

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.

Citation

Recommendations for Minnesota

Establish coursework guidelines for alternate route preparation programs.
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.

Ensure that new teachers are not burdened by excessive requirements.
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 should contribute to the immediate needs of new teachers.

Offer opportunities to practice teach.
While Minnesota is commended for offering high-quality mentoring support to new alternate route teachers, the state may want to consider providing its candidates with a practice-teaching opportunity prior to their placement in the classroom.

State response to our analysis

Minnesota asserted that it is a standards-based state, and the standards required for all programs are required for alternative programs, but the state will not prescribe the courses that need to be part of the preparation program. Therefore, “anything goes” isn’t a reality. Rather, the standards must be evidenced as being taught and assessed in the program or it won’t be approved.

The state additionally commented that it does not mandate the number of courses a program requires, rather, the developers of the program determine how to deliver the standards and provide evidence of that being accomplished, which is the basis for approval.

Lastly, the state indicated that as part of the alternative program application, the providers must articulate their plan for induction/mentorship, and that plan is evaluated as part of the review of the proposed program application. This flexibility allows for a variety of alternative program types, rather than a “cookie cutter” design for mentorship.

How we graded

Research rationale

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://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.