Alternate Route Preparation: Rhode Island

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.

Nearly meets
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Alternate Route Preparation: Rhode Island results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/RI-Alternate-Route-Preparation-7

Analysis of Rhode Island's policies

Rhode Island offers an alternate route with streamlined preparation that meets the immediate needs of new teachers.

Rhode Island sets guidelines for all alternate route programs. Providers are required to have a preservice experience for a minimum of five weeks that includes instruction in classroom management and pedagogy. The preservice experience must also include a practice-teaching opportunity. New teachers also participate in seminars and courses throughout the first year of teaching, although no additional guidelines are provided to the nature or quantity of coursework to be provided. 

New teachers are assigned a mentor who is responsible for modeling effective practice and providing feedback focused on improving performance. 

Upon program completion candidates are eligible for standard certification.

Citation

Recommendations for Rhode Island

Establish more specific guidelines for alternate route programs.
While Rhode Island is commended for providing a sound framework, the state should consider establishing more specific guidelines for alternate route programs. Setting minimum requirements, without established maximums, does not ensure that the new teacher will be able to complete the program in an appropriate amount of time without being overburdened by coursework. Also, 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. 

Strengthen the induction experience for new teachers.
While Rhode Island is commended for requiring all new teachers to work with a mentor, there are insufficient guidelines indicating that the program is structured for new teacher success. Effective induction strategies include 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.

State response to our analysis

Rhode Island asserted that "alternative route programs undergo program review to the same standards as traditional programs. Those standards provide more specificity to program requirements beyond what is contained in the alt route regulations. Nothing in the regulations specifically mentions coursework and the only alternative programs in RI are offered by private entities." Rhode Island also found NCTQ's statement that "anything goes" unclear because "RI does not mandate credits."

In addition, the state noted that Rhode Island is implementing a new induction program for all beginning teachers.  A specialized plan is being developed for alternative route candidates to tailor the support for them.

Last word

The issue of "anything goes" in coursework may not be a concern with Rhode Island's current non-higher ed providers. The state should consider making its requirements more specific so that they could be interpreted appropriately by any provider, whether college or university, school district or private organization. 

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.