Traditional vs. Alternative Teacher Licensure: What Does The Data Say?
The journal Educational Policy recently released my latest academic paper, “Teacher Effectiveness: An Analysis of Licensure Screens.” My co-author, Julie Trivitt, of the University of Arkansas, and I examined whether teachers who were traditionally certified are more effective than teachers who were alternatively certified, as measured by their ability to increase student achievement on Arkansas’ standardized tests. Traditionally certified teachers typically graduate from colleges of education and have student teaching experience whereas alternatively certified teachers often enter the classroom with little to no classroom experience. What we found might surprise you— the two groups of teachers performed at very similar levels.
How could it be that teachers who have gone through education programs and student teaching are no more effective than teachers with little to no experience? It seems a large factor in teacher effectiveness is a teacher’s academic capability. In our sample, there were significant differences between the traditionally and alternatively certified teachers in this regard.
The individuals entering the profession via an alternative route score higher on licensure exams. This is not out of the ordinary. In New York, “only 5 percent of newly hired Teaching Fellows and TFA teachers in 2003 failed the LAST [Liberal Arts and Sciences Test] exam on their first attempt, while 16.2 percent of newly hired traditional teachers failed the LAST exam.”
Opponents of alternative teacher licensure programs often lament that the new teachers will be “experimenting” on students. There is certainly something gained from experience, but the academic literature consistently shows that the difference between traditionally and alternatively certified teachers in terms of effectiveness is negligible.
Trivitt and I concluded that “Quality teachers simply cannot be identified exclusively by their licensure route or exam scores.” Therefore, there are really only two options: “improve licensure screens to the point that we can identify teacher quality very accurately or allow schools to use reasonable screens and identify quality teachers in practice.” To me, the latter sounds like a better policy — let local schools hire the individuals they think are the best for the job, regardless of certification.