By Kevin Hartnett
When No Child Left Behind (NCLB) became law in 2001, it mandated that all classrooms be staffed by a "highly qualified" teacher, re-igniting the debate around how teachers are trained and recruited.
At the center of the debate are Alternative Certification (AC) programs. These programs fast-track teacher candidates with prior "real-world" experience into classrooms by requiring them to take fewer courses than are required in Traditional Certification (TC) programs (like an undergraduate degree in education). Proponents of AC programs argue that traditional training courses add little to a teacher's ability, while critics charge that AC programs yield fundamentally unprepared educators. In 2008 AC teachers accounted for one-third of all new teaching hires. While several academic studies have attempted to assess the efficacy of AC programs over TC programs, few have been able to produce clear evidence one way or the other.
A new report from the Department of Education (ED) sheds light on the AC debate. The study compared 87 TC teachers and 87 AC teachers in 63 different schools, across seven states, over a two-year period. AC and TC teachers within the same school were paired and each randomly assigned a class of students. After controlling for background characteristics like teaching experience and prior academic achievement, the study found that type of teacher preparation had no significant effect on student achievement.