Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What Does Alternative Certification Say About the Value of Traditional Certification?

In my last post I mentioned debate over alt cert programs. Allow me to elaborate on one strand of the debate.

It is my impression that alt cert programs were originally started as a way to fill vacancies in hard to staff schools. To generalize, the problem was that not enough certified teachers were willing to teach in certain places, but prospective (uncertified) teachers were -- but, at the same time, were not willing to go through the whole certification process. "Alternative Certification," then, allowed competent but uncertified individuals a different, more acceptable, route to certification and also enabled districts and schools to fill vacancies. It's a rational compromise.

Both academia and the press frequently discuss the pluses and minuses of these programs. One of the most frequent arguments against (at least some of) them is that, though they are better than the status quo, they are not the ideal solution -- with some saying they're really more of a band-aid. On the opposite side, many argue that alternatively teachers are just as effective as regularly certified teachers (research has usually found either small or no benefits to certification depending on how it's defined) and sometimes take the opportunity to impugn certification programs and schools of education.

A number of students in my program (including myself) taught through alt cert programs, so they often come up in conversation. One issue that's raised is the effect that alt cert programs have on regular certification programs and public perception of them.

I am wholly unsure to what degree the people who run alt cert programs (and I'm sure there is a lot of difference on this) are out to prove that regular certification is useless. I get the feeling that most programs do not explicitly make this case. It seems to me that the programs are more focused on attracting qualified individuals than making political statements. But whether or not they explicitly criticize schools of education, the mere presence of these programs ultimately implies that certification is not important. In other words, they might not be trying to offend teachers who went through regular certification, but it's understandable if these teachers are offended.

For example, the NYC Teaching Fellows (my former program) regularly blankets subway cars with idealistic ads in order to attract applicants. The ads imply (whether or not they are intended to) that anybody who is smart and works hard can be a good teacher no matter their background and, therefore, that work ethic and intelligence matter more than training.

I'm not saying that there isn't some merit to the statement, but imagine if there was an alternative med school program and anybody who was smart and willing to work hard could be in the operating room after one summer of training. Regardless of whether the program fails or succeeds, its mere presence implies that it's not hard to gain the same expertise as doctors who went to regular medical school.

I'm not saying that this is necessarily good or bad (like most things, it's probably some of each), but I've noticed that this part often escapes people and I find it interesting.

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