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Reflecting on ‘The Growth and Impact of Alternative Certification: Findings from Two Studies’

For 30 years, I have been involved in teaching and teacher education as a graduate student, lecturer, professional development facilitator, teacher, professor, and administrator. Most of that time I was part of the university system. I worked for years at one of the oldest teacher preparation programs in the country (Eastern Michigan University) and now at an institution that offers a non-profit higher education alternative route certification (University of Michigan – Flint, although it is a 30+ credit master’s program). I wondered if my experience prejudiced my view on for-profit alternative route programs (alt. routes). Was my negative visceral reaction to “why can’t getting your teaching certificate be like getting a real estate license?” justified? With enrollment in traditional higher education teacher preparations falling 47% from 2010-2020 and enrollment in for-profit alternative routes up 140%, am I just reacting to the threat?

The webinar presented by AACTE: “The Growth and Impact of Alternative Certification: Findings from Two Studies” confirmed my concerns. Texas, the first state to approve non-higher education alt-routes, prepares more teachers than any other state in the country, and as of 2018-19, had 41 for-profit alt route programs that accounted for 68% of all enrollments in teacher education programs in the state.  As such, Texas was used as the site of a two-components study on for-profit alternative route certification programs.

Michael Marder (co-founder of UTeach at the University of Texas-Austin) presented a study examining value-added learning of students from teachers prepared through traditional programs and those prepared through alt-route. His findings showed in every subject at all grade levels with data available, students of teachers from higher education traditional programs showed 1-2 more months of learning growth than those of students with teachers from for-profit alt-route providers. Celeste Alexander, UT Austin, compared attrition of teachers prepared in traditional university-based programs as compared to for-profit alt. route providers and showed attrition for teachers prepared by for-profit alt route was higher than for those prepared through traditional university programs. Students are not earning as much, and teachers are not staying in the field as long as the teachers who are prepared through for-profit alt routes. These efficient and relatively inexpensive models don’t appear to be the solution and seem to exacerbate the problem if student learning is the goal. 

If we accept this as evidence that the present for-profit alt routes are underperforming, despite their initial appeal, what do we do next? I commit to working on the following three things although I am sure there are other ideas.

  1. Share this information with legislative decision-makers, school partners, and the community.

  2. Continue to lobby for financial support for students enrolled in traditional programs, through grants as well as intentional opportunities to work (for example as substitute teachers, residency programs, etc.) so that students can get through the programs without exorbitant debt.

  3. Look at the efficiency of our own programs without reducing quality – time to degree.

AACTE members, I encourage you to watch this webinar.

Beth Kubitskey is dean of the School of Education and Human Services at the University of Michigan-Flint.

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