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Follow-Up: Improving Alternative Certification

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From Guest Blogger Liana Heitin

The Center for American Progress held a panel discussion on Friday regarding its paper on how states can improve alternative-certification programs (see Stephen’s post). In addition to Robin Chait and Michele McLaughlin, co-authors of the paper, there were three other ed experts on the panel: Alex Johnston, CEO of a nonprofit advocating for public schools known as ConnCAN; Richelle Patterson, a senior policy analyst for NEA; and Scott Cartland, principal of Webb/Wheatley Elementary School in northeast Washington, D.C.

Although most of the panel members were in agreement about the efficacy and necessity of alternative-certification programs, Patterson provided the divergent viewpoint. She was careful to explain that while the NEA does support multiple routes to certification, especially those for career-switchers with deep content knowledge, it opposes inconsistent licensure standards and programs that promote short-term commitments.

Teach For America, Patterson contended, and similar programs are good models for recruitment but fail to assist in teacher retention. "TFA teachers—they’re in, they’re out. Teaching should not be a profession that's continually in revolution," she said.

Cartland, who voluntarily left a high-achieving school to take over the restructuring effort at a failing high-poverty school in northeast D.C., provided a convincing ground-level argument about the continued need for high-quality alternative programs. He explained that nine of the 11 new teachers he hired were from Teach For America and the D.C. Teaching Fellows programs because they were the only ones willing to take on the job. "There is no ed school that can guarantee people will stay even past the first month; the environments are just that challenging."

Patterson remained concerned with the assumption that teachers, rather than the system they work within, should have to change. "Are we just putting a Band-Aid on a real situation? If the real issue is poor working environments or lack of respect . . . shouldn’t we work on the real issue?"

It appears there is another dilemma altogether that is not being directly addressed: temporary vs. long-term solutions. It’s easy to see programs like TFA as Band-Aids because they are not focused on retention—but most would question if it is better to let our education system bleed. With one-third of all teachers certified through alternative programs, as the report indicates, where would the nation's public education system be without this supply of teachers, a disproportionate number of whom are willing to enter urban and rural schools? Would teachers be placed in under-resourced schools unwillingly? Would some of the toughest classrooms in the country be left without teachers altogether? Systemic change takes time, and in the meanwhile, students will continue to attend schools each day.

With more than half of the education stimulus funds headed to the states, the question as to whether the country should pump funds into what is needed now or what can help schools down the road is more important than ever. Some might say two-year commitments are beneficial for now, with the goal of weaning ourselves off these programs and working toward the proliferation of retention-oriented programs—such as teacher-residency programs—in the future.

3 Comments

Teacher retention is a very critical issue. We need to find ways to keep teachers in the classroom, however, we also have to realize that the days of keeping the same job for 30 years are gone. The pay structure for teachers must change to accommodate this shift. We need to increase compensation for beginning teachers and not assume that they will stay around to collect their pensions because the fact is that few actually will.

To retain good teachers federal and state administrators need to understand that their processes drive many bright teachers away. Panel experts add to the confusion with an endless stream of esoteric ideas.

Those in the position to hire teachers need to accept that some excellent teachers are great with students and enjoy their subjects but abhor the leadership intrusion and trivial rules. Some educators relish autonomy and prize their unique skills and talents. They just wish to be allowed to teach using their own initiative, subject matter and creativity. Being hamstrung by ideology, pedagogy or politics harms these particular teachers greatly.

Licensing standards, benchmarks, computer networks, certifications and fees do not work for all. Get used to it!

We put new teachers at a real disadvantage--not to mention our students--when they enter the classroom without having had any supervised internship, like student teaching. We give them the keys to the kingdom and expect them to hit the ground running. It's just not that easy; teaching is a complex and multi-layered job. Every new teacher, regardless of path to licensure, should have a supervised internship. It's the only way they can learn what effective teaching "looks like."

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