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Article  March 1, 2007

Insights into Alternative Certification: Initial Findings From a National Study

Abstract

Background

Alternative teacher certification has become an increasingly popular strategy for addressing both teacher quality and teacher shortages. However, there is little agreement about what constitutes alternative certification, and there is little known about the types of programs that prepare highly qualified teachers. The debate over alternative certification has fueled a variety of assumptions about participants and programs that are based on opinion or the limited research base.

Focus of Study

Our research describes in detail seven programs to understand who participates in these programs and what learning opportunities the programs provide. We test proponents’ and opponents’ assumptions about alternative certification against national data and data from the seven programs.

Research Design

We employed multiple data collection activities at both the program and participant levels. We conducted case studies of seven alternative certification programs, including multiple interviews with key personnel and document reviews. We surveyed program participants twice—once at the beginning of their participation in the program, and again at the end of their first year of teaching. We also observed a sample of participants teaching and interviewed them both at the beginning and end of their first year of teaching.

Findings

We find that both sides of the debate fail to capture the variation in participants’ characteristics and their experience in the programs. Alternative certification program participants are a diverse group of individuals who defy generalization. In addition, we find a great deal of variation between and within alternative certification programs. In contrast to simplistic characterizations, we find teacher development in alternative certification to be a function of the interaction between the program as implemented, the school context in which participants are placed, and the participants’ backgrounds and previous teaching experiences.

Conclusions

We conclude by questioning the usefulness of comparing different alternative certification programs and instead suggest that a better unit of analysis would be a subgroup of individuals with similar backgrounds, school placements, and learning opportunities.

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