Alternative Teacher Certification Oversold

Report concludes that programs such as Teach for America lack evidence of demonstrated success

Contact: Teri Battaglieri – (517) 203-2940;
 Gene V Glass – (480) 965-2692;

EAST LANSING, Mi. (May 12, 2008) – Programs that bypass traditional education training and certification receive good publicity, but there is no consensus from research evidence that they work, according to a new policy brief released today by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The policy brief, “Alternative Certification of Teachers,” was written by Gene V Glass, Regents’ Professor at Arizona State University.

Glass writes that alternative certification programs have been driven in part by the need for certain districts—often poor, urban, or both—to quickly find more teachers. But they have also been promoted, according to Glass, by ideological hostility toward traditional teacher education programs and toward government regulation as represented by conventional certification.

The policy brief examines research into various alternative certification programs. These include various local and state programs as well as prominent programs like the New York City Teaching Fellows and Teach for America (TFA). Such programs have “become a prominent part of the teaching profession,” writes Glass, who reports that the number of such alternatively certified teachers working in public or private schools currently exceeds 60,000 in the U.S.

Glass says that the current body of research on the subject is limited, but we do know that teachers participating in alternative programs such as TFA:

  • Are clustered in poor, urban schools;
  • Are no more likely—and possibly are less likely—to remain teaching after their initial commitment period (two years in the case of TFA) than regularly certified teachers; and
  • Have yielded conflicting data as to their effectiveness compared with their fully certified counterparts.

“Investigations that contrast the lived experiences of beginning teachers placed quickly in the classroom are needed,” he writes. “Research must also honor teaching as something more than the production of scores on paper-and-pencil tests.”

Perhaps surprisingly, alternative certification approaches that target graduates who have deep subject matter training but little or no teacher education are unlikely to save money: “College graduates trained in science, mathematics, and technology require significantly higher salaries than the market will bear if they are to enter public school teaching.” But if alternative certification of teachers proves in the end to be merely about cheapening the costs of training teachers, Glass notes, we all will pay a price: “Unlike with some professions, the plane may not crash or the patient may not die when teachers are poorly trained, but a society that demeans teaching and degrades education will in time surely see aspirations and hope atrophy and wither.”

Find Gene V Glass’s policy brief, “Alternative Certification of Teachers” on the web at:


The mission of the Great Lakes Center is to improve public education for all students in the Great Lakes region through the support and dissemination of high quality, academically sound research on education policy and practices.

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