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Traditional vs. Alternative Routes to Teaching: Is One More Effective?

Three hundred k-12 teachers earned licenses through alternative training in 1985-1986. Today, that number has ballooned to more than 59,000.

The traditional route into teaching requires completion of a formal teacher preparation program offered by a university or college and a major in education. However, alternative routes that require no formal training such as Teach for America (TFA) and the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence Passport (ABCTE) have become increasingly attractive and popular to prospective teachers.

Given the multiple pathways to entering the teaching profession, professor Tim Sass sought to measure the performance of traditionally prepared teachers in comparison with their alternatively trained counterparts. He shares his findings in new research titled, “Licensure and Worker Quality: A Comparison of Alternative Routes to Teaching” (2013).

“On average, education majors are not attracting the best undergraduate students and are not as strong academically as other majors. For example, the average SAT scores for teachers entering the ABCTE program were 180 points higher than the scores of traditional program graduates. Also, 100 percent of ABCTE students passed the math exam on the first try whereas less than 70 percent of traditional students passed on the first try,” Sass says.

Attrition rates for alternatively prepared teachers are generally lower. They are more likely to remain in the profession because many are second-career individuals making a conscious choice to transition into teaching. In contrast, many of those who are traditionally certified are recent college graduates and may not be confident in their career choice. Sometimes they discover they are not good at teaching or simply don’t like it, so they leave after the first year or two.

“The distinction seems to be parallel with the different investments people have to make in terms of preparation,” Sass says. “If you’re a college graduate with good opportunities outside of teaching, it is more likely you would enter the alternative route because it’s cheaper, less time-consuming and there is not a high cost to try teaching and switch. Lowering the barriers may lead to getting higher quality teachers into classrooms.”

Generally, the effectiveness of teachers from different routes varies. Alternative programs produce teachers who may be more or less effective, overall, than their traditionally prepared counterparts. However, alternative options have been shown to produce teachers who are more effective in particular subjects than those entering teaching via the traditional route, he finds.

Sass says that despite the variation, providing different avenues into teaching seems worthwhile in training k-12 educators.

“I didn’t expect to find large differences between traditional and alternative teachers or that the route with the least requirements would yield effective teachers by a fairly wide margin,” he says, “but these findings tell us that we shouldn’t close the door to alternative routes of teacher certification.”

To read the full report, go to http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2283151.