Alternative Certification: Design for a National Study


Humphrey, D. C., Wechsler, M., Bosetti, K., Wayne, A., & Adelman, N. (2002). Alternative certification: Design for a national study. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.


Teacher shortages are a major issue in some areas of the country, particularly in urban school districts. Across the nation, the demand for new hires is expected to increase by 2 percent per year for the next several years, with a need to hire approximately 2.5 million teachers over the next ten years (Hussar, 1999). Nationwide, high-poverty schools are chronically unable to attract fully prepared teachers, especially those schools in urban or rural environments (Ingersoll, 1996). In California alone, more than 42,000 classroom teachers—or 14% of the workforce— did not hold preliminary or professional clear credentials in 2000-01. About half of the new teachers in the state begin teaching before completing a preliminary teaching credential. Making matters worse, students in the lowest-performing schools are about five times more likely to be taught by an underprepared teacher than students in high performing schools (Shields et al., 2001). Similar patterns of inequity are found in New York State, where urban schools, the lowest-performing schools, and schools with high numbers of poor and minority students bear the brunt of the maldistribution of underpreprared teachers (Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2002).

At the same time as the need for new teachers is growing, there is a focus on improving the quality of the nation’s teacher workforce. For more than a decade, most states and school districts have been implementing standards-based reform with mixed results (Cohen & Hill, 1998; Shields, David, Humphrey &Young, 1999). A growing chorus of policymakers and researchers have pointed to the centrality of teacher quality to school improvement and increased student achievement. Indeed, recent research demonstrates the enormous influence of the teacher on student achievement (Hanushek, 1992; Rivkin, Hanushek & Kain, 1998; Sanders & Rivers, 1996; U.S. Department of Education, 2002). For example, Sanders’ research seems to show that two second-grade students with equivalent achievement test scores can grow 50 percentile points apart by the 5th grade solely as a result of having different teachers. Thus, the importance of teacher quality coupled with widespread teacher shortages has forced policymakers to confront the tension between teacher quality and quantity.

Some policymakers believe that alternative certification—in some form—can help meet the demand for more teachers while still maintaining or improving quality (U.S. Department of Education, 2002). As a result, alternative routes into the teaching profession are becoming increasingly commonplace. Alternative teacher education programs proliferated in the mid1980s, when projected teacher shortages pushed many state education departments and school districts to create ways of obtaining a certified teacher for every classroom (Dial & Stevens, 1993; Feistritzer, 1993). The push for alternative certification continued to grow during the 1990s. Estimates of the prevalence of alternative certification vary, depending on classification, but by 1999, 40 states and the District of Columbia had 117 state-run programs (Feistritzer & Chester, 1998, 2000). In addition, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) (1996) catalogued 328 alternative programs run by colleges and universities. Alternative certification now plays a central role in the production of new teachers in many states.

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