Alternative Teacher Certification

Published September 1, 1999

Over the past five years, a majority of states have seen increasing interest in alternative teacher certification, a process whereby people with a variety of educational and work backgrounds can become certified to teach in K-12 schools without following the traditional teacher licensing route.

According to a 1997 survey by the National Center for Education Information (NCEI), the most noticeable growth in alternative licensing programs came from those being developed by colleges and universities. Most programs involve collaborative efforts between the higher education institution, the state department of education, and school districts–teacher preparer, certifier, and employer respectively.

“These alternative teacher certification routes provide opportunities for people from various educational backgrounds and walks of life to become teachers,” said NCEI President Dr. C. Emily Feistritzer. “They have opened doors to teaching for persons from other careers, from the military, from liberal arts colleges, former teachers who want to upgrade their credentials and get back into teaching, and for people who trained to teach years ago but never did.”

The Center, which has polled state departments of education annually since 1983 regarding teacher education and certification, reports that 41 states, plus the District of Columbia, had some type of alternative teacher certification program in place by 1997. It is estimated that more than 80,000 persons have been licensed to teach through the 117 state_run alternative programs now are available. Thousands more are being licensed through participation in college programs.

Traditional Teacher Licensing

Individual states have the authority to license teachers and, with the exception of Wyoming, the regular route for licensing teachers is “the approved college teacher education program route.” This route is as follows: 1 College or university offers its own specific teacher preparation program that has been approved by the state;

2 Teaching candidate takes the approved program’s required courses and meets any other specified requirements such as student teaching and passing the National Teachers Examination;

3 Candidate receives a license to teach upon completing the approved program.

“There are 30 different titles used for the initial teaching certificates, and more than 50 titles used for the second stage teaching certificates throughout the 50 states and the District of Columbia,” noted Feistritzer.

Alternative Teacher Licensing

States began to look for ways to certify more teachers more quickly in the early 1980s, when the National Center for Education Statistics predicted–erroneously, as it turned out–a dramatic shortage of teachers by 1992. In response to criticism from the education establishment that these short-cut routes would lead to low-quality teachers, the aim of alternative certification gradually evolved into the development of better ways to prepare and license teachers than the traditional teacher college route.

Most new programs are designed not to meet shortages, but to bring an increasing number of interested and talented adults–those with considerable life experience and at least a bachelor’s degree–into the teaching profession. According to NCEI, these programs all include formal instruction and mentoring while teaching.

Most teachers support alternative certification. NCEI’s 1996 teacher survey showed that more than half (54 percent) of public school teachers and more than two-thirds (68 percent) of private school teachers agreed that recruiting adults who have experience in careers other than teaching would improve America’s educational system.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News.

For more information …

The February 1998 paper by Dr. C. Emily Feistritzer, “Alternative Certification–An Overview,” presents further information on alternative certification. The paper is available from the National Center for Education Information, 4401 Connecticut Avenue NW #212, Washington, DC 20008; phone 202/362_3444, fax 202/362_3493. The paper also is available on NCEI’s Web site at