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Alternative Routes to Licensure

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Alternative routes to licensure (ARC) look to supplement teacher supply by sidestepping traditional teacher preparation programs (Hawley, 1992).  ARC programs are not all created equal.  Since states control the qualifications for obtaining certification, there are no standards amongst ARC programs (Rosenberg & Sindelar, 2005).  In a survey of ARC programs in the United States, Feistrizer, Harr, Hobar and Losselyong (2004) found that among the 43 states who responded, there were over 144 different ARC programs that individuals can participate in to receive teacher licensure.  Rosenberg, Boyer, Sindelar and Misra (2007) also reported that 39 states from their study allowed ARC programs and that there were 174 different variations in programs.  The variability in the quality of ARC programs calls into question the quality of the teachers they produce (Connelly & Graham, 2009).

In traditional routes to licensure, teacher candidates attend state approved colleges and universities and complete a teacher preparation program that is accredited by a board such as the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation (Mastropieri, Scruggs, & Hauth, 2017).  Along with this accreditation, colleges and university who prepare teachers to teach students with disabilities employ the standards for special education teachers set by The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC, 2015).  These standards address the need for special education teachers to be competent in learner development, individual differences in learning, learning environments, content knowledge, assessment, and instructional planning and strategies (CEC, 2015).  These standards set a sound basis for the professional development needed for teachers of students with disabilities (Mastropieri, Scruggs, & Hauth, 2017).

Along with standards for teacher preparation, traditional teacher preparation programs deploy coursework, field experiences and interaction with higher education faculty with experience in the teaching field that help prepare these teachers to serve students with disabilities (Billingsley et al., 2009).  Valli and Rennert-Ariev’s (2000) review of teacher education programs found that preparation programs that require coursework in learning, development, curriculum and assessment along with authentic field-based experiences showed increased impact on teacher quality.  Other studies noted that programs who employed higher education faculty with experience in the teaching field along with their supervision in well-structured field experiences had a larger impact on teacher candidate quality (Bay & Lopez-Reyna, 1997 and Browning & Dunn, 1994).

In contrast to traditional teacher education programs, ARC programs bypass some of the elements of traditional programs.  One way they bypass traditional programs is allowing individuals who hold a bachelor’s degree in unrelated fields to take state certification tests to be considered a teacher (Connelly & Graham, 2009).  These individuals are deemed “highly qualified” to teacher students with disabilities if they can pass the content and pedagogical test required by their states (Darling-Hammond, Wise & Klein, 1999).  Teach for America is one program that allows individuals holding a bachelor’s degree, in a non-education field, to become teachers.  The Teach for America program requires their participants to complete a 5-8-week summer institute as part of their onboarding process (Teach for America, 2019).  This institute is described as: “a rigorous, hands-on experience based on a proven model that combines intensive training with immersive teaching practice and coaching.  The institute will prepare you with the foundational knowledge, skills, and experiences for teaching (Teach for America, 2019).”   In a study of the Teach for America program, Laczko-Keer and Berliner (2002) found that students taught by Teach for America trained teachers achieved 20% less growth that teachers from traditional teacher preparation programs.

Along with bypassing traditional programs, ARC programs also employ provisional or emergency licenses.  A provisional license is granted to individuals who either do not hold a bachelor’s degree in any field or teachers who have not completed all the required coursework for a bachelor’s degree in education (Mastropieri, Scriggs, & Hauth, 2017).  These individuals are given teacher certification under the premise that they will complete all the requirements for state certification in a specified amount of time (Boe, Cook, Bobbitt, & Terbanian, 1998).  Nougaret, Scruggs and Mastropieri (2005) found that special education teachers who held an emergency temporary license lacked the pedagogical competency to support students with disabilities in the classroom.  In this same study of traditional prepared and emergency licensed teachers, Nougaret, Scruggs and Mastropieri (2005) found that teachers under provisional licensure had an inflated sense of their effectiveness as a teacher.  This finding was confirmed in looking at traditional teachers and provisional teachers scores using classroom observations.  Provisional teachers reported a high self-assessment of their instructional skills but were found to be less effective by trained classroom observers (Nougaret, Scruggs & Mastropieri, 2005).


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Rosenberg, M. S., Boyer, K. L., Sindelar, P. T., & Misra, S. K. (2007). Alternative route programs for certification in special education: Program infrastructure, instructional delivery, and participant characteristics. Exceptional Children, 73 (2), 224-41.

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