Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Alternative Route Programs for Certification in Special Education: Program Infrastructure Instructional Delivery, and Participant Characteristics

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Alternative Route Programs for Certification in Special Education: Program Infrastructure Instructional Delivery, and Participant Characteristics

Article excerpt

The need for high-quality teachers--particularly in such high-demand areas as mathematics, science, and special education--has been a major impetus for the emergence and growth of alternative routes to certification (AR). Indeed, the U.S. Department of Education (2002, 2004) has proclaimed repeatedly that AR programs, as opposed to the traditional routes offered by colleges of education, are an effective means of streamlining the process of certification to move teachers into the classroom on a fast-track basis. In fact, recent federal legislation, including No Child Left Behind and IDEA, encourages these approaches to teacher preparation. These changing standards require alternative route candidates to pass certification or licensure exams to be highly qualified, but AR programs can alter, shorten, or waive entirely coursework in educational philosophy, pedagogy, and practice teaching.

In addition to the persistent shortage of qualified personnel and federal government influence, two other factors have contributed to the proliferation of AR programs. One is the acute need for multicultural' personnel. Special education teachers are predominantly White (86%), whereas the student population requiring special education is 32% diverse (Tyler, Yzquierdo, Lopez-Reyna, & Flippin, 2004). On average, AR programs have been more successful than traditional programs in attracting African American and Hispanic participants into the field. The success of these programs is a result of the tendency for alternative route program participants to reflect the demographics of the communities in which the programs are located (Humphrey & Weschler, 2005). Not surprisingly, many urban school districts, routinely and desperately in need of large numbers of certified teachers, develop alternative routes in special education and other high-needs fields. They consider AR programs to be a more viable source of supply of special education teachers both White and culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD)--than traditional programs. Not only is the number of candidates greater, but there are also greater numbers of opportunities to tailor program content and activities to address the challenges specific to urban and minority schools (e.g., Rosenberg & Rock, 1994).

The second additional factor is the strident sentiment from both inside and outside the educational establishment that traditional approaches to teacher preparation are self-serving, over-regulatory, anachronistic, and ineffective. For the most part, those who advocate alternative methods of teacher preparation assert that little evidence links pedagogical training and teacher quality, and they claim that the traits most associated with teacher effectiveness are knowledge of content and verbal ability (Hess, Rotherham, & Walsh, 2004). Although this sentiment for reform has translated into a range of new methods for providing teacher preparation (Hassel & Sherburne, 2004; Rosenberg & Sindelar, 1998), there is little information indicating how these novel approaches would develop teachers for students with disabilities.

When policy makers and those involved in general-education teacher preparation contemplate the design and implementation of AR programs, special education is rarely on their radar screens. Indeed, most of what legislators often debate and what the education literature often reports (e.g., Goldhaber, 2004; Zeichner & Schulte, 2001) can best be characterized as the "secondary content model," that is, programs that focus on content-specific pedagogy for individuals with subject-area expertise. Still, what researchers know about AR programs in mathematics, science, and other content areas may have limited application to special education teacher preparation, whereas universal design and pedagogy are more important than specific subject-area methods (Rosenberg & Sindelar, 2001). This factor is critical when considering the range of competencies (e. …

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