Study: Alternative Teacher Certification Benefits Students

Published October 17, 2009

A new national report credits alternative teacher certification programs for effectively filling teacher shortages.

The report, released in September by the Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), synthesizes recent major studies demonstrating advantages to states offering multiple professional training routes to the classroom. The authors argue states should adopt such programs as part of a solution to the problem cited in the U.S. Department of Education’s stated claim that the nation has a shortage of 2.2 million teachers.

“Alternative certification clearly has been able to bring more teachers into the field,” said NCPA’s Becca Garcia, coauthor of the report. From 1992 to 2006, the number of alternative certifications issued nationwide increased from 4,000 to 60,000.

Focusing Reform

But Sandi Jacobs, vice president of policy for the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), said focusing narrowly on the emergency value of reforming teacher credentials can have a negative effect.

“We need to think more broadly about alternative certification than just as a way to fill shortages,” she said. “That contributes to the second-class citizenry many alternate route teachers face.” Jacobs said certification reform instead should be viewed as a way to expand the pipeline and strengthen the overall quality of the teaching profession.

Garcia and her NCPA colleague Jessica Huseman argue less restrictive alternative certification programs not only fill shortages more quickly but also have other positive impacts. They cite research by Paul Peterson and Daniel Nadler demonstrating greater student gains in math and reading among states that have streamlined the process.

“Alternative certification programs have attracted people that are more devoted to the teaching profession,” said Garcia. “Commitment and enthusiasm brings in quality that is also needed.”

However, Jacobs said more careful distinctions among the various certification programs need to be made.

“Alternative certification programs are not all good or all bad. There’s quite a quality mix,” she said.

Increasing Avenues

American Board for Certification of Teaching Excellence (ABCTE) Executive Director David Saba believes research findings such as NCPA’s have helped to reap positive changes in many state policies.

“We are finding more states looking to create opportunities for high-quality certification programs like ABCTE,” Saba said. ABCTE is a nonprofit organization focused on rigorous preparation of mid-career changers for the teaching profession. Today’s typical college graduate will change careers four times before age 30. Saba notes more than 85 percent of his program’s completers stay at least three years in the classroom.

“To say there is only one way to train the 3.3 million teachers in our schools in this day and age is beyond absurd,” said Saba. “States that don’t create multiple avenues into teaching will find themselves using more and more long-term substitutes, further diminishing the quality of the education their students receive.”

Jacobs cited Arkansas, Louisiana, and New Jersey as examples of states that are moving in the right direction to provide a diversity of top-quality, streamlined routes to teacher certification.

“For most states, though, this is an area they need to put attention to,” she said.

Ben DeGrow ([email protected]) is a policy analyst for the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, Colorado.