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Can We Have It All: Speed and Scale of Alternative Programs with the Quality of University-based Teacher Preparation?

A reflection on the Understanding the Landscape of Alternative Preparation session at #AACTE23

The current need for teachers is urgent. Enrollment and completion in university-based teacher preparation has been declining for more than a decade and production is not keeping pace with demand. Some states have turned to alternative teacher preparation to rapidly address the growing crisis but with mixed results. The Understanding the Landscape of Alternative Preparation session at ACTE 2023 brought together several leaders in the space of university-based alternative programs aiming to increase the speed and number of teachers prepared while maintaining the quality of the preparation provided.

The panel included Jacqueline King, consultant for research, policy, and advocacy for AACTE; Suzanne Arnold, executive director of ASPIRE to Teach Alternative Licensure Program at the University of Colorado Denver; Tommy Hodges, dean and professor of mathematics education at the University of South Carolina; and Robert Lee, dean of the Sandford College of Education at National University. The panel was moderated by Stephanie Knight, dean of the Simmons School of Education and Human Development at Southern Methodist University.

King started the discussion by framing the context as explained in two recent reports released by AACTE. First, The Alternative Teacher Certification Sector Outside of Higher Education update 2022 presents evidence that alternative programs are on the rise. Alternative programs are operated by varied types of organizations, including institutes of higher education (IHE), schools, districts, and regional educational service agencies, nonprofit, and for-profit organizations. Next, the report Higher Education-Based Alternative Teacher Preparation Programs presents evidence that IHE-based alternative teacher preparation more effectively addresses the educator shortage than non-IHE supported alternative programs.

Arnold, Hodges, and Lee provided overviews of their IHE-based alternative programs. They each described the innovative thinking and operationalizing of inventive practices and policies to provide increased access to teaching certifications. The themes that emerged focused on designing programs that better meet the needs of today’s teacher candidates and providing tailored supports to ensure efficient and effective preparation of each candidate for the systems in which they will serve.

The panelists spoke of dismantling antiquated systems in their teacher preparation programs and creating systems that more closely align to the values and beliefs of their institutions. For example, several of the programs leverage competency-based microcredentials that stack to a teaching credential rather than credit-based coursework. This approach values the assets a candidate brings with them and tailors the course of study for each candidate rather than providing a set experience for all. This change in the structure allows greater access, reduces barriers, and aligns with the efforts to produce more well-prepared teachers in shorter time periods.

Competency-based approaches adjust the academic experiences a candidate has, but this is just one way that IHE-based alternative programs are meeting the needs of more candidates. Every panel member spoke of the importance of fitting the preparation and supports provided to both meet the candidate needs and align with the K-12 partner requirements. Panelists discussed varied “wrap around” supports for candidates — including creative financial supports, hyper-personalized coaching, and data-driven decision making — to ensure candidates are provided with well-rounded supports and are effectively and efficiently prepared to serve in their educational communities. 

The programs discussed offer evidence that we can take the best aspects of comprehensive, university-based programs and learn from and implement strategies from the alternative approaches to create faster, more accessible ways to produce effective teachers.

Katey Arrington is the associate director of the UTeach Institute at the University of Texas at Austin. She is also the president-elect of NCSM: Leadership in Mathematics Education.

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