The Independent Women’s Forum put out a Policy Focus paper, Alternative Teacher Certification by Carrie L. Lukas in April 2011.  Although the paper’s argument is directed towards women, it is applicable to all teachers.  It is very short, six pages, and easy to read; available in full Here.  Here are a few snippets:

Expanding the pool of people eligible to become public school teachers is key to improving the quality of the teaching workforce. Typically, schools required that applicants have a teacher certification or license. Getting those credentials require education-specific coursework, a costly and time-consuming process, which drives many potential teachers out of the field.  Troublingly, research shows that a teaching certificate doesn’t guarantee a teacher’s classroom success, and isn’t associated with better student performance.

One promising strategy for improving teacher quality is alternative teacher certification programs. These programs allow candidates to earn a license by meeting certain requirements—including having a college degree and passing

a background check—and demonstrating mastery of subject-area knowledge. This makes it easier for many qualified candidates to apply.

A growing body of empirical evidence suggests that creating real alternative certification options for aspiring teachers is a promising way to modernize the teaching profession, bring new talent into the classroom, and improve the overall quality of public education in America. That’s great news for millions of enthusiastic, educated women who may want to consider jobs teaching, and for all the parents who want their children to get the education they need and deserve.

In fact, researchers (such as Dr. Jay Greene of the University of Arkansas) have concluded that “the presence or absence of a teaching certification on a teacher’s resume does not make a noticeable difference in the classroom.”  Dozens of evaluations compare the academic achievement of students taught by teachers who earned traditional certification and those who entered the profession through another route, such as alternative teacher certification. Overall, the evidence suggests that traditional teacher certification isn’t an accurate predictor of better teaching.

Simply put, alternative certification programs lower the costs associated with entering the teaching field. They provide people who want to become schoolteachers a way to earn certification without going back to school to earn a degree in education. They allow aspiring teachers to prove that they meet a basic standard for becoming an instructor at a particular level without needing to obtain education-specific degrees.  And, indeed, alternative teacher certification programs are increasingly popular. Today, most states offer some form of alternative teacher certification, and one in five teachers enters the classroom through an alternative certification.

In 2008, Harvard University researchers surveyed state programs and reported that only 21 of the 28 states provide what the researchers called “a true alternative pathway.” These twenty-one states offered programs that let people earn a teacher’s license without completing coursework that is similar to that required by a traditional teacher certification program. Interestingly, the researchers found evidence to suggest that having a real alternative certification program could be effective in improving educational outcomes for students.

Harvard researchers found that states with real alternative certification programs increase representation of minority groups in the teaching workforce. Of the sixteen states that report the ethnicity of alternatively certified teachers, fourteen states reported that the percentage of minority candidates earning alternative certificates exceeded the percentage of minority teachers in the state overall. This could be key to improving classroom performance of minority children. Researcher Thomas S. Dee examined the link between a teacher’s race and students’ test scores and concluded: “The results are troubling. Black students learn more from black teachers and white students from white teachers, suggesting that the racial dynamics within classrooms may contribute to the persistent racial gap in student performance…”

The Harvard University evaluation also found that states with real alternative certification options had seen greater improvement on the so-called “Nation’s Report Card” examination. Students in states with real alternative certification programs improved their academic achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and mathematics tests more than students in states that lack strong alternative programs.  The study cautions that the presence of an alternative certification program was not necessarily the cause of the improvement in achievement. But the positive test scores do cast doubt on any claim that alternative certification programs weaken the quality of the teaching workforce.

Policymakers can enact alternative certification programs that are affordable, both for the state and for the aspiring teacher. Given the difficult fiscal circumstances facing many state governments, alternative certification presents an option for strengthening public education without increasing government spending or the deficit.

Some women may see alternative certification programs as a threat, creating new competition for teaching positions and lowering the value of education-related degrees (which are overwhelmingly earned by women).  However, the benefits of a more flexible teaching field will outweigh perceived costs to women. First, research suggests women will still be more likely to participate in alternative teaching certification programs, particularly among career changers (one estimate found that 65 percent of those pursuing alternative teacher certification were women). Women, who are more likely to take time out of the workforce to raise children, are more likely to consider changing careers, and would therefore benefit more from these new opportunities. The existence of alternative certification programs would also allow women who want to be teachers to pursue fields beyond education during college.

Dr. Eric Hanushek of Stanford University found that having a highly-effective teacher for five years in a row could erase the difference between low-income and middle-income student performance.

Similarly, Dr. William Saunders of the university of Tennessee, a national expert in value-added assessments (which measure students’ learning gains over time), found that a student who is taught by low-performing teachers for three years will learn approximately 50 percent less than a student who is taught by a teacher from the top 20 percent of the effectiveness scale.

These research finding suggest that policymakers should focus education reform strategies on bringing the most talented, effective people into the classroom.

Why you should care?  Americans deserve the world’s best education system, and that requires having the best teachers.  Here’s why you should support alternative teacher certification programs:

The High Cost of a Bad Education: Poor public schools create the equivalent of a permanent national recession. It costs our country billions, and limits the life prospects for millions of children.

● Teacher Quality Matters: Research confirms what parents know: Good teachers matter. A student taught by low-performing teachers for three years will learn half as much as one taught by a teacher on the top 20 percent of the effectiveness scale.

● Traditional Teacher Certification Doesn’t Guarantee a High Quality Teacher: Research doesn’t support the idea that certified teachers are better teachers.

● Opportunities for Women: Many highly qualified women would love to teach if it was easier to get in the classroom.  Dropping education-related coursework requirement would free college women to explore different topics, giving them more professional options.

● Better-Prepared Students: Alternative certification can lead to better teachers in the classroom, and better student outcomes. And that’s what our public school system is supposed to be about!

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