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Alternative Certification for CS Teachers

In the midst of budget cuts (which the politicians claim won't harm education), a colleague of mine reported that a local school system had declared that it would cut costs by dismissing all alternate entry teachers. After the initial shock, and the inevitable question, "Can they do that?" my colleague told me about research she had been doing on her doctoral thesis—concerning the value of in-depth induction programs for alternate entry teachers. She had come across a research study published by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

The study, An Evaluation of Teachers Trained Through Different Routes to Certification was published in February of 2009. The study reported several interesting findings. Before I continue with my post, I must state that the study involved 187 elementary school teachers (kindergarten through 5th grade) in 20 districts in seven different states (not middle school or high school Computer Science teachers). However, the study findings certainly give one cause to pause and think.

The study reported that students of alternative certification (AC) teachers did not perform statistically differently from students of traditional certification (TC) teachers. There were some "average differences in reading and math, but the differences were not statistically significant." The study explained that there were many differences in the preparation and background of AC and TC teachers, including, required coursework, whether or not the teacher was currently taking courses, the teacher's undergraduate major, and the teacher's SAT scores, differences that exist among any group of teachers (or other professionals for that matter). The study reported that such "differences in AC teachers' characteristics and training experiences explained about 5 percent of the variation in effects on math test scores and less than 1 percent of the variation in effects on reading test scores." In other words, the teachers' characteristics and required coursework "were not related to the effects of teachers on student achievement." The study concludes that there was "no benefit, on average, to student achievement from placing an AC teacher in the classroom when the alternative was a TC teacher, but there was no evidence of harm, either." The authors note that, of course, individual teachers have an effect on student achievement. The authors were NOT able to identify what specific characteristics of individual teachers have an effect on student achievement.

Interestingly enough, the study also concluded that "There is no evidence from this study that greater levels of teacher training coursework were associated with the effectiveness of AC teachers in the classroom." The statistical analysis showed that there was no evidence that the amount of coursework required of AC teachers produced more effective teachers. As a life-long educator, this surprised me; however, after reflecting on my recent experiences with so many alternative entry teachers and the current state alternative licensing requirements, I thought perhaps educators aren't really approaching the AC teacher with an open mind. There are many truly outstanding AC educators in many different content areas.

The study further concluded that "There is no evidence that the content of coursework is correlated with teacher effectiveness." The study found no statistical correlation between student test scores and the content that the AC teacher had completed—including pedagogy and fieldwork. The authors state "there was no evidence of a statistically positive relationship between majoring in education and student achievement." That will certainly shake up conventional wisdom in the world of education. I'm not sure that I can even grasp the implications since one of the responsibilities of my current position is to plan the preparation needed for these alternative licensure teachers. At least I do have the educational foundation that many teacher education institutes are now embracing (in part due to NCLB). I have a bachelor's degree in my content area. I took education courses in addition to the BS degree requirements to obtain a teaching license. My master's degree is also in the content area rather than in education, and I had to jump through many hoops to add that content area to my teaching license (it's not quite as strenuous now!).

So, why would a school system want to dismiss all their alternative certification teachers? That's a very good question. I don't think that action would be prudent at all. I have come to the conclusion that we need to encourage and embrace alternative certification in all areas of education, but particularly in the areas of Computer Science (CS) and Information Technology (IT). What better preparation can a CS or IT teacher have than to have a degree in the content area and related work experience? What a wealth of knowledge and experience these AC teachers bring to the classroom! Who better than an AC teacher to help our students with authentic, rigorous and relevant learning in the 21st Century? What better time than a financial downturn than to encourage these well-qualified individuals to seek a second career in education? We need these well-qualified alternative certification teachers in Computer Science and Information Technology education—and we need them now. (CSTA has included alternative entry teachers in the recently published white paper, Ensuring Exemplary Teaching in an Essential Discipline: Addressing the Crisis in Computer Science Teacher Certification, available at http://csta.acm.org/Communications/sub/Documents.html.)

The research study, An Evaluation of Teachers Trained Through Different Routes to Certification, was conducted by Jill Constantine, Daniel Player, Tim Silva, Kristin Hallgren, Mary Grider, John Deke of the Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.; and Elizabeth Warner, Project Officer, Institute of Education Sciences. A pdf file of the research study can be found at the ISE, US Department of Education, website: http://ies.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=NCEE20094043.

Work Cited:
Constantine, J., Player D., Silva, T., Hallgren, K., Grider, M., and Deke, J. (2009). An Evaluation of Teachers Trained Through Different Routes to Certification, Final Report (NCEE 2009-4043). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

Deborah Seehorn
CSTA Board Member


Good post on teachers certification. I really like that you have included information regarding Alternative Certification for CS Teachers. I would really like to go for this profession as teaching is a booming career approach. Lots of apprentices are applying for this teaching training programs... good post....

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