The Alternative Teacher Certification Sector Outside Higher Education

A new article by Jacqueline King and Jessica Yin for the Center for American Progress explores the landscape of alternative teacher preparation in the U.S., beyond those programs offered by colleges and universities. Excerpts from the piece appear below:

Unfortunately, there are long-standing educator shortages in particular subject areas and localities. These trends have led state policymakers, pre-K to 12 schools, and an array of other organizations to look to nontraditional models for preparing teachers, including alternative certification programs.

Alternative certification programs typically provide individuals who already have a bachelor’s degree with a pathway to certification that does not require them to obtain another degree. In these programs, candidates can become a “teacher of record”—taking responsibility for leading a class and often teaching without direct supervision—before completing all their certification requirements. These programs can be run by institutions of higher education (IHEs) or by other organizations.

Alternative teacher certification programs that are not operated by IHEs take various forms and have experienced steady growth in enrollment in the past decade. In 2020, the Center for American Progress conducted an analysis to identify the types of organizations sponsoring these programs, the role of for-profit organizations in the sector, the states in which these programs operate, and how enrollment varies by race and/or ethnicity and gender.

Key findings of this analysis are:

  • In the 2018-19 academic year, non-IHE alternative certification programs existed in 33 states and Washington, D.C. In most states, the sector was relatively small; only six states hosted more than 10 programs, and seven states hosted only one program.
  • Despite growing enrollment, the number of students completing non-IHE alternative certification programs declined by 10 percent from academic year 2010-11 to 2018-19, illustrating that the expansion of this sector has not alleviated the United States’ teacher shortage.
  • Texas has by far the largest non-IHE alternative certification sector, hosting 41 programs that together account for 68 percent of enrollment in educator preparation programs in the state.
  • Programs run by for-profit organizations enroll 69 percent of the students in this sector nationally and experienced enrollment growth of more than 48,000 students, or 283 percent, from 2010-11 to 2018-19. However, the number of students completing for-profit programs rose by only 37 percent, or 2,440 students, during the same period.
  • Teachers of Tomorrow, which operated programs in eight states in 2018-19 and enrolled 58,460 students, dominates the for-profit sector and is by far the largest single teacher preparation program in the United States. It has grown rapidly since 2015 and, having recently gained accreditation, is poised for additional expansion.
  • For the first time in one decade, non-IHE alternative certification programs enrolled a slightly higher percentage of students of color than white students in 2018-19. However, white students still comprised the majority of enrolled students in IHE-based programs, and across all program types, white students made up the majority of program completers.
  • All types of certification programs enroll at least twice as many female students as male students, and no certification program type enrolls a particularly large percentage of students who identify as “other gender.” States must do more to collect comprehensive gender data and recruit a more gender-diverse teacher candidate population.

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