Academic journal article Community College Review

The Specialized Associate's Degree in Teacher Education: Effective Pathway or Degree Proliferation'?

Academic journal article Community College Review

The Specialized Associate's Degree in Teacher Education: Effective Pathway or Degree Proliferation'?

Article excerpt

To address the teacher shortage, some states have developed special associate's degrees in teacher education. This article explores the prevalence and structure of these specialized associate's degrees and presents a case for their development to smooth the transfer pathway for community college students who wish to become teachers.

Keywords: associate of arts in teaching; teacher education; community colleges; articulation; transfer

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Most states today are grappling with a teacher shortage. The U.S. Department of Education has estimated that the demand for teachers in the nation's public schools will reach 4 million by 2015, an increase of 17% from 2003 (Hussar & Bailey, 2006). The latest figures available show that 74% of all public schools reported teaching vacancies during the 2003-2004 school year (Strizek, Pittsonberger, Riordan, Lyter, & Orlofsky, 2006, p. 39). The demand for new teachers is especially intense in states that attract high numbers of immigrants, such as Florida, Georgia, and Texas. Even if the number of children attaining school age as a result of the "baby boom echo" declines by 2008, the teacher shortage in many parts of the United States will continue because of population growth and immigration patterns.

States have developed different pathways to attract new teachers to the field, often implementing several at the same time. Two of these pathways have been fairly visible--and sometimes controversial: (a) alternative routes to teacher certification and (b) expansion of the community college mission to include 4-year teacher education programs. Less controversial is the more traditional transfer pathway between 2- and 4-year programs in teacher education. But do most articulation agreements between 2- and 4-year programs work well in smoothing the path to a teacher education degree? Do students know which general education courses to choose from among the dozens of options often available in the humanities, the social sciences, the natural sciences, and mathematics? Are there curricular content and sequencing concerns peculiar to teacher education programs that require targeted associate's degree programs? What if the student has settled on a major but has not decided which 4-year institution to attend? Concerns over questions like these have led a number of states to develop a specialized associate's degree for teacher education majors, sometimes called the associate of arts in teaching (AAT).

The purpose of this article is twofold: to explore the prevalence of statewide specialized 2-year degree programs in teacher education and to explore the pros and cons of offering these special associate's degrees. The article presents a tally of statewide associate of arts (AA), associate of science (AS), associate of applied science (AAS), and AAT degrees designed specifically to articulate with university teacher education programs, including those in elementary education, secondary education, early childhood education, and special education. A listing of any common general education and major program components, including fieldwork, is also included. The second purpose of the article is to examine whether a need truly exists for a specialized transfer degree program designed for teacher education majors or whether the development of the AAT and similar degrees is simply "degree proliferation."

Issues and Stumbling Points in Transferring Between 2- and 4-Year Teacher Education Programs

A review of the history of the role that community colleges have played in teacher education in the United States, the functions and titles of the associate's degrees, and the curriculum requirements and sequencing in the different teaching majors is germane to our investigation of specialized 2-year teacher education associate's degrees and provides a context for some of the implications discussed in the final portion of this article.

Early 2-Year College Role in Teacher Education

Historically, the development of 2-year colleges, previously called "junior colleges," and of teacher education institutions, called "normal school," was intertwined. …

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