Expert Outlines Keys to Success in Alternative Certification

Published March 1, 2007

During the past 15 years, most states have created alternate pathways to K-12 teaching that do not oblige would-be teachers to have an undergraduate degree in education. Approximately one-third of new teachers each year in U.S. public schools now come with degrees and often, successful careers in fields other than education.

The question is whether a would-be career-switcher ought to have to take 24 college credit hours or more of professional education courses in order for high school students to benefit from his or her deep knowledge of a subject.

No less an authority than Arthur E. Levine, former president of the Teachers College at Columbia University, noted in an Education Schools Project study published last September that most teachers come from weak schools of education.

Delia Stafford-Johnson, a pioneer in alternative teacher certification and president of the National Center for Alternative Teacher Certification Information, believes getting high-caliber teachers into classrooms is about more than accumulating education credits in universities. She said it’s also about more than simply knowing the subject matter.

“Content and pedagogy are very important,” Stafford-Johnson said. “However, if the novice can’t relate to children, it does not matter how much content the individual brings.”

Training Is Essential

While college courses are not necessary for a teacher to be successful, Stafford-Johnson said a well-crafted training program run by the local school district is paramount. For more than a decade, she operated such a program in Houston, and she received White House awards for her innovative ways of discovering good teachers for at-risk children.

The objective is to find talented novices who will dedicate themselves to staying in teaching, Stafford-Johnson said. A one-year distinguished fellow appointment (as was proposed recently in Iowa) “could do more harm than good to both an aspiring teacher [and] the students.”

Ideally, Stafford-Johnson said, career-switchers or other novices should begin preparing eight months before starting work in a classroom. Other key elements, she said, include a full background check; review of transcripts in the academic discipline; weekly evening classes led by master teachers and principals; a week of classroom observation in May; and intensive training and practice teaching in August.

Robert Holland ([email protected]) is a senior fellow for education policy at The Heartland Institute.

For more information …

“Educating School Teachers,” by Arthur E. Levine, Education Schools Project, September 18, 2006,