Alternative routes to teacher certification continue to not only grow and change rapidly, but also to profoundly impact the teaching force in nearly every state in the nation.

In 2006, 48 states and the District of Columbia reported to NCEI that they were implementing alternative routes to teacher certification. These, 48 states and the District of Columbia described 124 actual alternative routes to teacher certification. These state certification routes are being implemented in approximately 600 program sites, most accurately called “alternative teacher certification programs.”

To date, each state is the only entity that can issue licenses or certificates to teach or grant licensing authority. And, in order to teach in public schools in the United States, one has to have a license in the state in which one is teaching.

The variation in numbers and types of teaching certificates issued by states, as well as requirements for obtaining them through traditional college-based undergraduate teacher education program routes, has been huge. In addition, the certificates issued have been ever changing.

It is no different in the area of alternative routes to teacher certification (ARTC). As ARTCs have proliferated, so have the variations of them.

In 1983, NCEI began annually to ask state licensing officials, “What is your state’s status regarding alternative routes to the approved college education program route for certifying teachers?” They were asked to check the following: Implementing alternatives; proposed alternatives, considering alternatives, not even considering alternatives.

Throughout the 1980s, the answers to that question seemed frenetic. It was clear that some states were considering anything and everything they issued – such as emergency certificates – alternative routes to teacher certification.

When New Jersey began implementing its Provisional Teacher Certificate program in 1985, the media took note and the reaction from the education establishment was anything but welcome. The mere hint that schools and school districts might be given authority to establish their own “approved programs” to train and educate their own teachers and that the state would issue teaching certificates to completers of these programs was met with fierce resistance -- primarily from teacher colleges.

The mid-1980s brought other “news breaking” stories of projected huge shortages of teachers. The media reported predictions that the nation was going to need to hire 1 million, then 2 million, then 2.2 million new teachers in the next decade. We now know those were somewhat misleading statistics.

Nevertheless, legislators and policy makers were driven to ward off severe shortages of teachers, and the torch to find ways to get more people into teaching was lit. Efforts to get rid of emergency certification added fuel to the fire. The race was on to create alternative routes to teacher certification.

State teacher education and licensing officials, who are ultimately responsible for issuing teaching certificates, began calling any and every certificate they had been issuing to people who had not completed the traditional college approved teacher education program route, including emergency certificates, “alternative teacher certification.”

In 1990, in an attempt to provide some order to the chaos, as well as to give some direction to the movement, states were asked to send NCEI original source documents – legislation, regulations, guidelines, brochures – whatever they had that was related to their alternative routes to teacher certification. We pored through these documents and created a format for describing each alternate route. In addition, we created a classification system to make clear the distinctions among these routes.

Beginning with the 1991 edition of this annual publication, ALTERNATIVE TEACHER CERTIFICATION: A State-by-State Analysis, NCEI began classifying and providing a detailed description of each alternate route to teacher certification in each state. State officials, legislators and policymakers regularly use the publication to guide their efforts in creating laws with provisions for alternative routes to teacher certification.

In August 2003, NCEI received an unsolicited discretionary grant award from the U.S. Department of Education to establish the National Center for Alternative Certification (NCAC). NCAC’s web site, www.teach-now.org now serves as a one-stop source of information about alternative routes to teacher certification, including the full text of ALTERNATIVE TEACHER CERTIFICATION: A State-by-State Analysis.

To recap some history, the 1980s were characterized by two rather divergent phenomena regarding alternative routes to teacher certification:

  1. A focus in a few states to develop new and different ways of recruiting non-traditional candidates for teaching and the creation of new pathways for certifying them to teach.
  2. A flurry in several states to re-name existing teacher certification routes, such as emergency or other forms of temporary certificates, “alternate routes.”

The early to late 1990s saw formulation of a cohesive definition for alternate certification routes. More and more states not only stopped calling their emergency and temporary certificates “alternate routes,” but dropped them altogether.

By the late 1990s, common characteristics of nontraditional teacher certification routes being created by the states began to emerge:

  • Routes specifically designed to recruit, prepare and license talented individuals who already had at least a bachelor’s degree -- and often other careers – in fields other than education.
  • Rigorous screening processes, such as passing tests, interviews, and demonstrated mastery of content.
  • Field-based programs.
  • Coursework or equivalent experiences in professional education studies before and while teaching.
  • Work with mentor teachers and/or other support personnel.
  • High performance standards for completion of the programs.

The fastest growth in alternative routes to teacher certification has occurred since 2000, with most of the new routes administered by colleges and universities. The operative term is “administered by.” Most every alternative route to teacher certification is, in fact, collaboration among the state licensing authority, institutions of higher education and local school districts.

One- third of current state alternative routes to teacher certification have been created since 2000. More than half of them have been established in the last 15 years.

The oldest and most established states offer the most prolific alternate routes in terms of production of new teachers – per year, as well as total. They are: California, New Jersey, and Texas. New Jersey reports that about 40 percent of its new hires come through alternate routes. For Texas and California, about one-third of their states’ new hires come through alternate routes.

Additional states where alternative routes to teacher certification are growing rapidly in producing more and more of the state’s new teachers are: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Virginia.

Local areas where alternative routes in other states are producing significant numbers of new teachers are: Chicago, New York City, Milwaukee, and the District of Columbia.

Some states list four or five alternate routes, yet use them sparingly or not at all. From year to year, routes are added and routes are dropped by states.

What has been noteworthy as alternative routes have gained in notoriety is a shift away from emergency and other temporary routes to new routes designed specifically for non-traditional populations of post-baccalaureate candidates, many of whom come from other careers.

In February 2004, during the first annual conference of the National Center for Alternative Certification (NCAC), participants requested that a template be created for states to use to describe their alternate route programs, record basic data and share information about their programs in a uniform way across the country.

That template was designed with input from numerous state officials, providers of alternate route programs and researchers. It was made available for use online in June 2004 at NCAC’s web site, www.teach-now.org. The program providers now access the information online through a user ID and password that they obtain from NCAC.

NCAC maintains a running analysis of the data as it is entered by providers of alternate route programs. It is noteworthy that, from when only 150 providers had completed the data template to when 265 had, there has been no significant change in the profile of alternate route programs. The information for each program can be found, by state, at www.teach-now.org.

Data submitted to NCEI from the states that issue teaching certificates and from providers that are implementing alternate route programs within the state indicate that approximately 50,000 individuals entered teaching through alternate route programs in 2005, up from approximately 39,000 in were issued certificates to teach in 2004. (See Table on page 26)

There is mounting evidence that alternative routes to teaching and the numbers of individuals using them to enter teaching are growing at an increasingly fast pace. Data and information that the National Center for Education Information has been tracking for more than two decades indicate that this trend will continue. A flurry of academic research is now underway to ascertain the effectiveness of the teachers entering teaching through these alternative routes. Please visit our web sites at www.teach-now.org and www.ncei.com to keep abreast of findings of these studies as well as any other information about alternative routes to teaching.


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