Alternative certification allows individuals who have undergraduate degrees in fields other than education to obtain a teaching certificate through participation in training and/or on-the-job learning experiences. These programs are usually shorter in length and more intense than traditional programs. They provide many different routes to certification, and are characterized by the fact that they offer individuals opportunities to teach without graduating from a traditional teacher preparation program, fulfilling student teaching obligations, or passing certification exams. Many districts and states around the country are using alternative certification as a means of coping with growing teacher shortages, concerns about quality and quantity of teachers, increased student enrollment, mandates for smaller class size, and the lack of diverse teachers.
Alternative certification programs and the number of people choosing to pursue these avenues are growing. In 2002, forty-five states had alternate routes to teacher certification. Today, more than one in ten teachers enter the profession through alternative certification programs. According to the National Center for Education Information, there are more than 125,000 teachers today who were certified through an alternative certification program, which is three times what it was more than ten years ago.
In recent years, several organizations have provided leadership in the field of alternative certification. Perhaps the most well-known of these organizations is Teach for America. Created by Wendy Kopp in 1989 as an extension of her senior thesis at Princeton University, Teach for America recruits recent college graduates, provides them with a five-week summer training session, and then places them in low-income U.S. communities where they agree to teach for at least two years. In the last ten years 5,000 individuals have participated in Kopp’s program, teaching largely in urban and rural public schools. Based loosely on the model of the Peace Corps, Teach for America has been funded in part through President Clinton’s National Service Initiative, Americorps, and most recently it has received funding through the Bush administration.
There have been many spin-offs of Teach for America, some created by Kopp or by former recruits or managers in the Teach for America organization. These include the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), Knowledge Empowers You (KEY), The New Teacher Project, and TEACH! In addition to national programs, state programs are creating ways for teachers to obtain teaching certification in nontraditional ways. In some cases, the requirements are very similar to those in traditional programs.
Some educators support whereas others oppose alternative accreditation programs. Some educators in favor of these programs suggest that colleges of education are producing mediocre teacher candidates; alternative approaches that allow people to become certified without graduating from these programs offer the opportunity to recruit highly skilled people from the private sector who have developed real-world experience, they say.
Critics of alternative certification argue that these programs deskill and deprofessionalize teachers by providing them with inadequate training and by taking the education of teachers out of the hands of colleges and universities. Critics view alternative accreditation as employment programs for liberal arts graduates on their way to a real job, and they fear that this rationale affords no protection to the pupils, who are often the most disadvantaged students. It is common for alternative certificate holders to be assigned to disadvantaged neighborhoods where students are frequently subjected to substitute teachers and inexperienced, unsupported recruits, many of whom don’t last a year in the classroom.
It is likely that opinions of accreditation programs for teachers differ because the programs themselves vary greatly—ranging from full-fledged education programs with stringent entry criteria to programs with nonexistent entry requirements that make unsupervised emergency placements.
- Berry, B. (2001). No shortcuts to preparing good teachers. Educational Leadership, 58(8), 32–36.
- Haberman, M. (1991). Catching up with reform in teacher education. Education Week, 11(10), 29–36.
- Kopp, W. (2000). Ten years of Teach for America. Education Week, 1(41), 48–50.
- Legler, R. (2003) Alternative certification: A review of theory and research. North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL). Retrieved from http://www.ncrel.org/policy/pubs/html/altcert/intro.htm
- Mabry, M., & Gordon, J. (1990). The new teacher corps. Newsweek, 116(3), 62–64.
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