Alternate Route Preparation: Virginia

Expanding the Pool of Teachers Policy


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 goal in part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2013). Alternate Route Preparation: Virginia results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from:

Analysis of Virginia's policies

Although Virginia offers alternate routes with streamlined preparation, it could do more to meet the immediate needs of new teachers.

Candidates in the Career Switcher Program must complete 180 clock hours of instruction, including field experience, as part of their induction program. Coursework includes curriculum and instruction methods, standards of learning, differentiation of instruction, classroom/behavior management and human growth and development. During the first year, candidates attend a minimum of five seminars for a minimum of 20 cumulative instructional hours.

Virginia is commended for both the length of its Career Switcher alternate route program and its coursework requirements, which offer the flexibility and content that new teachers need to succeed in the classroom, without being overly burdensome. 

The Alternate Route to Licensure program requires pre-K-3, elementary pre-K-6 and middle school candidates to complete 18 semester hours of coursework. Secondary candidates complete 15 semester hours of coursework. Topics include human growth and development, curriculum and instructional procedures, classroom and behavior management and foundations of education. Elementary candidates also complete six semester hours of language acquisition and reading, and middle school candidates must complete six semester hours of reading in the content area and language acquisition.

Career Switcher candidates have a practice-teaching opportunity and participate in a mentoring program. Mentors assist in implementing a professional development plan; observe, assist and coach new teachers; share resources and materials; and provide support regarding school procedures.

Alternate Route to Licensure candidates do not have a practice-teaching opportunity. The school district is required to provide a mentor to all new teachers.

Upon successful completion of all program requirements, candidates are eligible for a standard certificate.


Recommendations for Virginia

Establish coursework guidelines for all alternate route preparation programs.

While Virginia is commended for the coursework requirements in the Career Switcher program, the state should consider similar guidelines for those in the Alternative Route to Licensure. 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.

Consider providing opportunities to practice teach to all candidates.

While Virginia is commended for offering an opportunity to student teach in the Career Switcher program, the state may want to consider providing all of its candidates with a practice-teaching opportunity prior to entering the classroom.

Strengthen the induction experience for new teachers.

Virginia is commended for requiring all new teachers to work with a mentor; however, there are insufficient guidelines indicating that the induction program is structured for new teacher success. Effective 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

Virginia was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis. 

The state noted that study in the Career Switcher program does include methods in the content area, classroom and behavior management, assessment and reading instruction. In addition, the Board of Education does have approved mentor guidelines.

At its June 27, 2013, meeting, the Virginia Board of Education accepted for final review (proposed stage) the Advisory Board on Teacher Education and Licensure's recommendation, with the Superintendent of Public Instruction's proposed amendments, to revise the Licensure Regulations for School Personnel and authorized the Department of Education staff to proceed with the requirements of the Administrative Process Act.

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 (, 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: 

See also Alternative Certification Isn't Alternative (NCTQ, 2007) at: