Alternative Teacher Education Programs: A Review of the Literature and Outcome Studies

By Suell, Jo Lynn; Piotrowski, Chris | Journal of Instructional Psychology, March 2007 | Go to article overview

Alternative Teacher Education Programs: A Review of the Literature and Outcome Studies


Suell, Jo Lynn, Piotrowski, Chris, Journal of Instructional Psychology


This paper provides an overview on alternative teacher education programs (ATEP). This review covers the formation, development and design of these non-traditional certification approaches over the past 2 decades. The major reasons for the viability of these programs are presented. Moreover, research studies on critical issues such as teacher retention, mentoring, needs assessment, and professional competency are emphasized. Recent comparative studies on traditionally-trained and ATEP teachers are noted. Research, to date, supports the ATEP model for training teachers.

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Alternative teacher certification programs (ATEP) refers to non-traditional methods that an individual may use to become licensed to teach other than the common approach of graduating from a college or university with a degree in education (Feistritzer, 1999). Alternative programs vary widely in requirements, agency responsibility, length, and intensity. Jorissen (2003) reported that developing competencies that facilitate student learning is a complex process that requires time and a pattern of successful, reinforcing experiences with supportive professional learning experiences. Programs now range from 2 weeks of training prior to classroom assignment to 2 years of coursework and up to 3 years of mentoring. The agency responsible for the program may be a school district, regional service center, university, teacher union, business community, or a combination of any of these or other agencies (Haberman, 2001).

A U.S. Department of Education report titled Meeting the Highly Qualified Teacher Challenge (2003) states that ATEP programs may be an essential part of improvement of teacher education but further research is needed to show their effectiveness. Effective ATEP programs should have a strong academic coursework component, field-based learning in the classroom, and support from qualified mentors (Feistritzer & Chester, 2003). The five core features of effective alternative certification programs are (a) the recruitment of minorities, (b) careful selection, (c) on-the-job training, (d) coaching, and (e) accountability. In the Education Commission of the States (2003) summary of studies, key factors important to successful alternative programs are listed as (a) strong partnerships between preparation programs and schools, (b) good screening, (c) strong mentoring, (d) solid curriculum, and (e) as much training and coursework as possible prior to teaching.

Alternative certification programs have been a controversial topic since there inception. Virginia established the first statewide ATEP program in 1982. California followed in 1983, and Texas and New Jersey began their programs in 1984 (Zetchner & Schulte, 2001). Alternative certification programs have been growing rapidly in the last few years. By 2002, 45 states offered alternative routes to certification. Of these, 20 states have developed 34 new programs in the last 5 years. New Jersey leads the country with 22% of its new teachers entering the field through alternative methods (U.S. Department of Education, 2002). In fact, Feistritzer and Chester (2003) report that 200,000 individuals have been certified through alternative routes in the United States since 1985. Most of the programs are administered by school districts in conjunction with universities. ATEP programs have evolved into a new teacher preparation program, not just an alternative certification route.

Need for Alternative Certification

Luekens, Lyler, and Fox (2004) predict that there will be a need for 1.7 million to 2.7 million new teachers by the 2008-2009 school year. There are several reasons for this shortage. As a group, elementary and secondary teachers are significantly older than the country's general workforce and are quickly reaching retirement age. At the same time, there has also been an increase in student enrollment in public schools. Currently, school districts in the United States hire 150,000 new teachers each year (Hussar, 1999). …

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