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U.S. ED To Collect Data on Alternative-Certification Patterns

The U.S. Department of Education is preparing to collect information from states on teachers participating in alternative-route programs—and whether they disproportionately teach students with disabilities, English-language learners, and other traditionally underserved groups.

The data collection will fulfill a little-noticed provision in a spending bill that passed a year ago.

There is a long and somewhat tortured history behind this seemingly simple request. It has to do with a legal ruling that the Education Department improperly expanded the scope of the No Child Left Behind Act in permitting alternatively certified teachers to be considered "highly qualified" under the law. (The statute says teachers have to be fully certified, among other things.) Teachers in alternative-certification programs generally earn their certification while teaching full time, not before.

The lawsuit was brought by a group of advocates who generally believe that teachers should have to complete their training to be deemed highly qualified.

Advocates for alternative-route programs succeeded in getting Congress to allow the "loophole" to stand for another year in the 2012 spending bill. But that bill contained a catch: It directed the Education Department to write a report detailing where such teachers are located by this year's end.

We've heard almost nothing about the agency's progress, but the ED now appears to be gearing up to collect this data. According to a notice in the Federal Register, it's seeking data on the degree to which such teachers instruct students with disabilities, English language learners, rural students, and economically disadvantaged students.

A caveat to this exercise is that the research is far from clear that teachers from alternative-certification programs are demonstrably worse at helping students learn on average than traditionally prepared teachers. Studies generally conclude that there is more variation within alternative and traditional programs than there is between them. (It is true that teachers with more experience tend to do better on average than first-year teachers.)

As for where they're located, keep in mind that alternative routes sprung up partly to meet staffing needs in rural and urban locales, where districts often had to issue emergency credentials, or in subjects like math and special education, where traditional programs were not producing enough graduates. (As I've reported before, there is a glut of elementary teachers even as these shortages exist.)

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