Alternative Teacher Training Programs

The concept of “alternatives” to traditional state certification leaves a great deal of room for varied meaning. It can mean alternative ways to meet teacher certification requirements–such as a graduate level masters’ degree program rather than an undergraduate teacher education program. It can mean alternative standards for certification which allows for truncated or reduced training–or for training completed during the course of a teaching career rather than prior to its initiation.

The issue of alternative teacher certification programs has been one of the most controversial and confusing topics in the discourse about U.S. teacher education during the past 20 years. The confusion stems from the problematic nature of the research that has been conducted on alternative programs (Moir & Dalton, 1992) and from the lack of clarity over the definition of an alternative program. The controversy comes from the challenge posed by some alternative programs run by states and school districts to university and college control over preservice teacher education. In some cases where the standards are lower than in college and university teacher preparation, alternative programs are viewed as undermining attempts to professionalize teaching because they minimize the need for specialized professional knowledge and imply that all a teacher needs is content knowledge and an apprenticeship in a school during an internship (Lederman & Flick, 2003).

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Advocates of alternative certification argue that alternatives to traditional paths into teaching will enhance the status of the teaching profession by bringing into teaching academically competent individuals who would not otherwise enter the profession (Ruckel, 2000). The purpose and target populations for alternative teacher certification programs vary greatly depending on the particular context in which they have arisen. These programs have been initiated to deal with real or projected teacher shortages and to supplant emergency licensed teachers in particular subject areas and in schools in particular geographical areas such as urban and outlying rural schools (Lederman & Flick, 2003). They have also been initiated because of some dissatisfaction with traditional college- and university-based programs (Manos & Kasambira, 1998) and to serve as a catalyst for the reform of these programs. The programs have focused in varying contexts on the preparation of teachers of color, midcareer switchers, retired military personnel, paraeducators, aerospace and defense workers, and teachers in subject areas of shortage such as mathematics, science, special education, and bilingual education, including recent college graduates in these fields (6). Most of these programs have also focused on the preparation of teachers for urban schools where the need for fully licensed teachers is the greatest.

One final area that has been examined in the literature on alternative teacher certification generally is the possible influence of the growth of these programs since the 1980s on the ways in which colleges and universities prepare teachers in their traditional 4- and 5-year undergraduate programs. Here, it has been speculated that the growth in largely field-based alternative programs has stimulated the increase in field experiences in traditional programs and the development of more university-based postbaccalaurate programs (6). Dalton (1992) also claimed that in Connecticut, the integrated teacher education curriculum in the alternative program stimulated a reexamination of the curriculum in several traditional college and university programs. Manos and. Kasambira (1998) argued that in some cases, alternative teacher certification has fostered greater cooperation among teachers, school administrators, and professors in the preparation of teachers. Finally, Dalton speculated that the growth of alternative teacher certification programs has drawn more attention to the importance of good mentoring for beginning teachers.