The Teacher Pipeline and Certification

Supplying a critical shortage

WANTED TEACHERS signBy Dave Saba

We do not have enough teachers.  It is a simple statement with far-reaching implications.  There are critical shortages of special education, math, science, urban, or rural teachers, and a whole list of other shortage areas that are becoming extreme.  It means we are using more long-term substitutes – if we can even find substitutes considering there is also a massive substitute teacher shortage.

Teachers have the most profound impact on student achievement. Without great teachers, our students fail.

The current talent pipeline is not even close to working:

• Supply - according to Title II reports, students enrolled in teacher preparation programs have dropped by over 150,000 in 2 years –a percent drop

• Retirements - according to the National Council on Teaching and America’s future, schools will lose half their teachers  between 2011 and 2021

• Teachers for life - the current generation does not stay in one job and according to the Department of Labor, a worker will hold an average of 11.7 different jobs between the ages of 18 and 48

States are finally trying to combat the shortage with scholarships for teaching majors, bonuses, improved reciprocity, and easing up on state student testing requirements.  Those incremental incentives can bring a few more into the teaching profession, but these efforts will not get close to replacing the 150,000 enrollments that have been lost.

merging train tracksIn order to meet the increasing demand for new teachers, we need additional on-ramps into the teaching profession. If millennials are not going to stay in teaching for 30 years, then we need a way for them to move into teaching when they are ready to inspire students. These on-ramps cannot be too costly or too cumbersome, and they must leverage technology to truly attract career changers into teaching.

That may be best accomplished by alternative teacher certification programs.  While most of the country has seen drastic reductions in their teacher supply, Texas has not experienced the same shortages.  Texas has a very robust alternative teacher certification pipeline with over 100 different programs supplying teachers.  While Texas education school enrollment has dropped from 32,000 to 18,000 students in just two years, Texas alternative certification enrollment has increased from 14,000 to over 24,000 during that same time frame.

The programs in Texas have a rigorous approval and monitoring system. Programs all have pedagogy-based classroom readiness training and field-based experience in a classroom along with proof of subject matter mastery prior to entering the classroom as the teacher of record.  Once a teaching position is secured, the teacher candidates must complete additional pedagogy training, receive mentoring/coaching, and pass their pedagogy exam. This allows these teachers to move to the next phase of teacher licensing.  And these programs work.

There have been arguments in the past that alternative certification will somehow lower teacher quality and hurt the teaching profession. The research tells a different story. Over the years, studies have been conducted to show that there is no harm done by using teachers from alternative certification; alternatively, it can dramatically improve the number of teachers available for hire and significantly improve diversity.

books and an appleThe University of Texas conducted an exhaustive independent study in 2014 to determine if there were differences in student achievement based on teacher certification pathway. Because Texas has the largest number of teachers and the largest number of programs, this study is an excellent indicator to determine differences in teacher impact. What they found is that there was no statistical difference in teachers from university programs versus alternative certification programs. A 2007 study by Kane, Rockoff, and Steiger had similar findings – variation within teacher preparation programs is too large to see any variation between programs.

As for diversity, alternative certification programs have proven to attract a more diverse teaching workforce. A January 2016 analysis of diversity in teacher preparation programs found that traditional program enrollment was just under 30 percent non-white, alternative certification programs based in higher education were just under 40 percent non-white, and non-higher education alternative certification programs were around 45 percent non-white.  This more closely matches the student population. To put a finer point on it, in 2015 1,663 African Americans were certified by alternative certification programs in Texas compared to only 538 from university and college programs.  The top two programs in the country for diversity were Teach for America and Teachers of Tomorrow – both alternative teacher certification programs.

Why are alternative certification programs so successful?  A look at the most successful programs reveals that they have some very common elements:

• Recruiting – It starts here, and the most successful programs know how to find candidates in the most efficient way possible.  Higher education-based programs cannot compete when it comes to recruiting

• Advising – It is not easy to figure out how to become a teacher. It is critical to have a team of experts who can help people navigate the teacher certification process based on their specific set of circumstances, and this is something the most successful alternative programs prioritize

• Efficient Training Career changers just cannot quit work and go through a college of education program. The training should leverage technology and provide an efficient path to the classroom while still ensuring they are prepared for their first day with students

• Low Cost Many are taking a pay cut to follow their passion to become a teacher. The cost of the program cannot be prohibitive  

• Support Teachers need solid first-year support. They should get additional training, but the training cannot be such a burden that it makes the first year impossible - the first year is already tough enough. Alternative programs have an excellent balance of support and training during the first year while taking steps not to overwhelm the first year teacher

• Completion Many traditional programs last up to 3 years – it takes too long, and people end up leaving. The program should finish in one to two years to ensure maximum performance and completion

all are teachers all are learnersHow do states increase their on-ramps to teaching? They must have rules and processes that encourage certification routes, not discourage expansion.  Alternative certification now counts for over 50 percent of the teacher preparation in Texas. In the rest of the United States, it accounts for a mere 4 percent.  Texas has shown that there is a significant group of people out there who want to teach if we can just get them in a program.

Finding teachers is getting much more difficult. Class sizes are getting larger, and we depend on too many long-term substitutes to fill vacancies in a classroom, which is simply not sustainable or effective. There is no single solution to this problem. States and districts must look for various ways to increase the supply of teachers and retain the best teachers for our students. Alternative teacher certification pathways are one of the most impactful ways states and districts can quickly increase the supply of qualified, diverse, and more mature teachers to ensure every student has a great teacher.

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