Boom in Alternative Teacher Certification

Published September 1, 2000

Over the next ten years, a wave of veteran teacher retirements and a surge in student enrollments are expected to produce widespread, severe teacher shortages across the country. To address the looming crisis, states are implementing alternative routes to teaching.

Today, more than one in 10 of the nation’s new teachers enter the system through alternative certification programs. This proportion ultimately could reach one in five, based on New Jersey’s experience with more than a decade of alternative routes to teaching.

By itself, a 25 percent increase in supply would be more than enough to address projected teacher shortages. But it’s unlikely such an increase in the supply of new teachers will be needed, because alternative certification will also depress the projected demand for teachers. This is because “alternative route” teachers tend to have a lower attrition rate than those entering teaching from traditional college-based programs. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 20 percent of all new teachers leave the profession within three years.

While officials estimate the need for new teachers at 210,000 a year for the next decade, the supply of new teacher graduates jumped almost 50 percent during the last 15 years–from 134,870 in 1983 to 200,545 in 1998. According to the National Center for Education Information, more than 24,000 of these new teachers were certified through alternative programs: three times more than 10 years ago. The number of teachers certified through these programs now totals over 125,000.

“What we are seeing are market forces in action,” said Dr. C. Emily Feistritzer, president of NCEI and coauthor of an extensive study that provides state-by-state analysis of alternative teacher certification.

“People from all walks of life are stepping forward to meet the projected demand for teachers,” she added. “Many of these individuals already have at least a bachelor’s degree, so the old model of training teachers in undergraduate education programs does not work. States are aggressively meeting the challenge by creating new training and licensing avenues for people to enter teaching.”

Ten new alternative certification programs were developed in different states in 1998-99 alone. Also, in the past two years, 14 states have passed, introduced, or plan to introduce new legislation to establish alternative programs for the preparation and certification of individuals who already have a bachelor’s degree and want to become teachers. Those states are Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Details of the many alternative certification programs offered by the states–115 programs in total–are found in NCEI’s 422-page study, Alternative Teacher Certification: A State-by-State Analysis 2000, released earlier this year. These different routes have opened doors to the teaching profession for persons from other careers such as business, the military, and higher education. They also have brought back former teachers who want to upgrade their credentials and get back into teaching, and people who trained to teach years ago but never did.

In 36 states, the alternative programs specifically target individuals from careers other than education. Thus, it’s not surprising that–compared with recent college graduates who come into teaching directly from a traditional teacher preparation program–those entering teaching through alternative routes have degrees with majors in subjects other than education and have work experience outside of education.

The alternative-route teachers are more likely to accept positions where the demand for qualified teachers is greatest: in inner cities, in rural areas, and in subject areas such as math and science. These teachers also tend to be older, to be men, and to be people of color. The two latter characteristics are important in helping to bring diversity to a teaching profession that is overwhelmingly white and female.

“There is a rather stark and troubling mismatch between the diversity of the student population and the relative homogeneity of the teaching force,” according to Brenda Welburn, executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education.

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

For more information . . .

The 426-page report, Alternative Teacher Certification: A State-by-State Analysis 2000, is available from the National Center for Education Information, 4401-A Connecticut Avenue NW #212, Washington, DC 20008, 202/362-3444, fax: 202/362-3493. The full report is available for $99, plus $5 for shipping and handling. If information is required only for certain states, send $12 for the first state and $5 for each additional state.

Better Teachers, Better Schools is a report on teacher certification from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, 1627 K Street NW #600, Washington, DC 20006, 202/223-5452, fax: 202/223-9226. Single copies of the report are available by calling 1-888-TBF-7474. The full volume also is available on the Foundation’s Web site at

Last year, the Fordham Foundation published the Teacher Manifesto, The Teachers We Need and How to Get More of Them, which is available by calling 1-888-TBF-7474. The Manifesto is also available through PolicyBot, The Heartland Institute’s free online research service. Point your browser to, click on the PolicyBot icon, and search for old document #2180439.