Deregulation’s Downside:
Diminishing and Deforming a Great Educational Movement:
A Texas Reflection
Vicky Dill and Delia Stafford 2004

History-Making Paradigm Shift. There is no doubt that alternative teacher certification is one of the great grassroots movements of the 21st century (from Vicky S. Dill, “Alternative Teacher Certification” Adapted with permission of Macmillan Reference USA, A Division of Simon & Schuster, from HANDBOOK OF RESEARCH ON TEACHER EDUCATION. 2nd ed., edited by John Sikula, pp. 932-960, p. 937). Alternative teacher certification signaled an entirely new way of doing business, so radical a departure it was from the traditional college-based model.

Championed in Texas by George Bush Sr., alternative teacher certification pioneers in the state of Texas at one time awarded the president his teaching certificate in a Whitehouse ceremony “alternatively.” But starting in the early 1980’s and with predecessors in Teacher Corps as far back as the 1960’s, traditional routes into the classroom were gradually augmented by non-traditional routes for individuals driven to be teachers. How things have changed! Today, approximately 25% of all new certifications in the state of Texas are alternative. Says C. Emily Feistritzer of the National Center for Education Information, “What were often called “scab programs” and “quick and dirty” ways to rush unprepared people into teaching in the early 1980s, when alternative routes first surfaced, are now models for the way all teachers are prepared” (www.ncei.org). The innovation not only served to meet urgent and pressing labor needs; it changed indefinitely the way educators think about the effective basis for bringing new talent into the field.

Off Target: Gloom and Doom Predictions. Innovations begun in the early 1980’s and still continuing in 2004 have evolved into a complex and amorphous mix of methods to prepare teachers. Those who predicted the death knell of traditional programs have been shown to be as off-target as those who averred that profiteers and marketers would usurp legitimate teacher educators to establish bogus programs that simply gain profit. Those down-siders were sidelined. Instead, traditional programs mix with post-baccalaureate, masters degree, online and other hybrids. What has happened represents an interesting confluence of diverse correlates and may teach something about the more intransigent downsides of extreme deregulation.

The fruits of regulation. In the infancy of the alternative teacher certification movement, alternative programs were watched and scrutinized intensively. In Texas, the State Board of Education was bound by law to approve each new alternative certification program; Texas Education Agency officials frequently visited each program and, using a research-based monitoring guide, noted if the program had sufficient support in order to ensure the effectiveness of each new intern, to see if there was a reasonable ratio of new teachers-to-mentors; to see if program expenses were reasonable in order to be equitable, and to ensure that no students were harmed by teachers “learning on the job.” During these early years, teacher retention, student achievement, program costs, and effectiveness of the new programs were nothing short of spectacular. Early research documents essentially similar data on the academic and classroom performance of alternatively and traditionally certified teachers (Dill, ibid., p. 939); throughout the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, teacher retention in the well-monitored Texas programs remained statistically higher than retention in the traditional programs (see Texas Education Agency, Alternative Teacher Certification, 1989-90; 1990-1991; 1991-1992).

Research Needed on Deregulation. However, in the mid-1990’s, the Texas Education Agency chose to cease the monitoring function of alternative programs and look instead only at “outcomes.” In the rubric used, “outcomes” meant primarily test scores of individuals passing the exit-level tests for certification per program. The strategy both saved the state money and enabled officials to talk about “outcomes-based” data. Deregulation meant that no one was examining the quality of the intern mentoring; no one was looking to see if the program director(s) had adequate office support; no one was watching to see if each intern had multiple levels of support – a principal, a mentor, a college supervisor, and/or a program advisor. Totally unsupervised and deregulated, numbers swelled and programs proliferated.

Sad Outcomes: Collateral Damage in ACP Retention. No one will ever be able to show or prove that deregulation is the sole or even a significant basis for the decline in quality of alternative programs in Texas – that retention of interns is due to lack of systemic approaches to select based on research, to mentor and support in cohort learning communities, to assess based on individual staff development prescriptions, and to evaluate based on multiple measures. No one will know because the occurrences are correlational, not based in carefully controlled studies (another result of deregulation). What is clear, however, is that after 1995, retention started slipping until today, alternatively certified teachers leave teaching in Texas, particularly in high minority high poverty schools approximately 10% faster than do traditional teachers (www.sbec.org). For example, between 1996 and 2003, in all schools alternative teacher certification interns left at 40.7%; traditionally certified teachers left at 33.8%. In the most challenging of all worlds – a cosmos in which the early interns thrived and survived, high poverty high minority middle schools, between 1996 and 2003, 46.2% of all alternatively certified interns left and 33.3% of traditionally certified graduates left (www.sbec.org., AEIS PEIMS, TEA). The exact reason for this sudden decline needs to be carefully examined in controlled studies in order to save what has been learned from an incredibly innovative and popularist grassroots educational movement.

Summary: Salvation is in a Systems Approach. What TEA at one time ensured was that every teacher education program had a holistic system in place to recruit, screen, train, support, and assess new teachers. Colleges of education still strive to have that in place and are monitored by their accreditation agencies for every piece of the picture. Has deregulation gone too far?

Significant research remains to be done to ascertain if any of the hunches outlined above are accurate. However, for 40 years, experts in human resources have know that there are no magic bullets to building a campus staffed with resilient and mature teachers who are culturally attuned to the students and can build relationships with them that work for their achievement (www.schoolcommunities.org). If the leaders and directors of alternative programs will not ensure a complete, supportive and effective system, there is currently no one else watching, and painful attrition may be the result. Excellent leaders are the only answer to this quandary. Building a pool of highly qualified teachers requires that careful selection, research-based development, customer (employee)-friendly retention, and benchmarked evaluation become part of the everyday expectation. There are no short-cuts to finding excellent teachers for the students who need them most and more and more deregulation may lead us all in the exact wrong direction.

Delia Stafford, Haberman Foundation President, directed the first, largest and highly successful school-based alternative teacher certification program in America. Vicky Dill writer and researcher for the Haberman Educational Foundation has long been advocate of alternative certification. Dill worked at the Texas Education Agency when the first programs were developed in Texas and was instrumental in crafting the initial language for alternative certification. Her chapter in the Handbook of Research on Teacher Education, Macmillan, is the most in-depth research available to date. For more on alternative certification and the Haberman Educational Foundation, Inc. visit our website. http://www.habermanfoundation.org

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