Thursday, March 11, 2010

Innovations in Education: Alternative Routes to Teacher Certification; Recruit Widely, Select Carefully

The rationale driving alternative route programs is that many excellent teacher candidates have made other life or career choices but would be open to becoming teachers if presented with the right offer. Because these preparation programs are created to address the specific teacher shortage(s) experienced in the districts they serve, their challenge is to identify the types of potential candidates who would best meet district needs and, then, make them an offer they can't refuse. But first programs have to get their attention. Thus, the recommendation, gleaned from the successful programs profiled in this guide, is to recruit widely and select carefully.

In light of the great need for specific subject-area teachers (e.g., in science),7 the recruitment efforts of most programs target individuals who are already steeped in the relevant content because they have majored in it and have been working in that field. Included in this category are many midcareer professionals and early retirees. This targeted approach reflects the mission statements of many alternative programs. For example, the program in Hillsborough County, Florida, seeks to "expand the pool of educators to include non-education majors committed to making a positive impact on student achievement and providing quality educational opportunities." New York City's program rests on a similar assumption, that "there is a substantial pool of talented individuals who have chosen other career options and who are capable of and interested in becoming excellent teachers."

While trying to recruit widely, programs must also be selective in the candidates they admit, ensuring that those who enter an alternative route program have the necessary knowledge, skills, and personality to quickly become effective teachers. So how does a program target its recruitment efforts to ensure a strong applicant pool from which to select tomorrow's best teachers? Successful programs have found a variety of ways.

Recruitment Approaches

The six programs represented here report that word of mouth is by far their most effective recruitment tool, particularly because it typically yields candidates who are similar to previously successful candidates. Moreover, satisfied candidates and school systems are likely to spread the word without any special effort on the part of their program. Other, less personal advertising approaches, such as radio and television spots and local newspaper advertisments, have also proven fruitful, especially for newer programs. New York uses a print advertising campaign to inspire dissatisfied professionals to become teachers. Subway posters send provocative messages to burned-out or disillusioned professionals. "Tired of diminishing returns? Invest in NYC kids" was just one of many Madison Avenue-inspired invitations. News coverage has also proven to be a boon to alternative programs. When the New York Times, for example, ran a story about the district's alternative route program, 2,100 applications flooded in over the next six weeks.

Some programs target specific groups in their recruitment efforts. The Chico program, designed to increase the number of special education teachers in northeast California, deliberately targets groups that are underrepresented nationally among special education teachers (especially people with disabilities and men).
Information sessions and recruitment fairs are another way programs inform interested people about their alternative route processes. Such information sessions help potential applicants self-select, recognizing early whether the high demands of the alternative approach fit their skill and energy levels. The Hillsborough program hosts two large recruitment fairs each summer. Approximately 900 people attend these sessions. In New York, several information sessions prior to the application deadline provide those considering the program with the opportunity to speak with current candidates, a program recruiter, and other individuals involved in the alternative program. The sessions include a program overview, testimonials from current participants, and a question-and-answer period mediated by candidates and recruiters.

Selection Criteria

Once a highly motivated group of people has shown interest in becoming teachers, programs must decide how to manage the application and selection process to ensure that they get the best candidates in their programs. The first level of screening involves setting application requirements. All of the programs highlighted in this guide require applicants to have completed a bachelor's degree. Grade-point average (GPA) can also be used to set minimum standards; this requirement is typically set by university rather than other program partners. As the leaders of the New York program point out, GPA is not necessarily an indication of an applicant's ability to become an effective teacher. In general, traditional admissions criteria such as GPA and letters of recommendation are of little help when applicants are career changers or have been out of school for many years. (See figure 3 for program-by-program recruitment and selection criteria and steps.)

What may be most telling for alternative route program applicants are solid content knowledge and the ability, by virtue of life and work experience, to relate content to the real world. The rigorous nature and fast pace of these programs require that applicants have a high level of maturity and tenacity and a learning style that is a good fit with a "practice-to-theory" approach.

Selection Processes

Successful programs have selection processes and tools to help them identify applicants who have what it takes to succeed in classrooms as well as in the program. Communication with hiring districts and applicant interviews are key elements in making these determinations.

Figure 3. Candidate Recruitment and Selection

Selection Process
Alternative Certification Program/ Hillsborough County, Florida
  • Hold or be eligible for a temporary teaching certificate from the Florida Department of Education (requires a BA in the desired certific ation area)
  • Paid instructional employee of Hillsborough County School Board or Board-approved charter school
  1. Be identified by district as a qualified HCPS employee
  2. Submit the program application with hiring principal's signature

Educator Certification Program/Region XIII, Austin, Texas
  • BA with a 2.5 GPA
  • Required course work and semester hours in desired certification area
  • Evidence of competency in reading, writing, and mathematics
  • Daily access to a computer, printer, and Internet connection
  • 3 letters of recommendation
  1. Gallup TeacherInsight ™ interview
  2. Satisfactory score on candidate selection matrix
  3. Input on application from Austin ISD (the region's largest employer)

Georgia Teacher Alternative Preparation Program (Northwest and Metro Regional Educational Service Agencies)/Georgia
  • BA with a 2.5 GPA
  • Major in desired certification area
  • Employed by a public school system
  • Criminal background clearance
  • Pass or exempt from Praxis I
  • No teacher education program completed
  • No teaching certificate
NW: Candidates are hired and screened by the school system Metro:
  1. Paper screening process (includes review of application, resume, 2 reference letters, transcripts, and "passing" a personality test)
  2. Interview
  3. Pass the Essentials of Effective Teaching course
  4. Secure a teaching position

New York City Teaching Fellows/ New York
  • BA with a 3.0 GPA
  • U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • Speak English fluently
  • No teacher education program completed
  • No teaching certificate
  1. Submit transcripts, resume, and personal statement
  2. Attend the interview-interaction
  3. File review process
  4. Receive regional placement and university assignment
  5. Pass two state-required exams

Northeastern California Partnership for Special Education/ Chico, California
  • BA with a 2.67 GPA
  • Demonstration of subject mater competency
  • Pass CBEST
  1. Meet application requirements
  2. Haberman Star Teacher Selection Interview
  3. Satisfactory score on the interview rubric

Wichita Area Transition to Teaching/Wichita, Kansas
  • BA with a 2.5 GPA
  • Major in desired certification area
  • Same general education courses required of all other WSU teacher education students
  • Minimum of two years' employment in a career related to their content specialty
  • Admitted to the WSU graduate school
  1. Transcript analysis
  2. Interview with program director
  3. Pass Pre-Professional Skills Tests in reading, writing, and mathematics
  4. Secure a teaching position
Each of the six alternative route programs in this guide has a different approach to placing candidates in the classroom. Some programs require that applicants have a job with one of their partner districts or a job offer contingent on their program participation. Other programs accept candidates whom they judge to be highly likely to find a placement on their own. Still other programs work directly with districts in making their selection decisions, with the goal being to fill chronic vacancies. No matter what approach is used, the program must have an excellent relationship with the school district(s) it serves. Program administrators must consistently place highly successful candidates; otherwise they cannot build the trust necessary to sustain the program. Successful placements are also key to building the kind of reputation that fuels highly desirable word-of-mouth recruitment.

The New York program's screening criteria narrow an annual pool of approximately 17,000 applicants down to around 1,900 candidates. Applicants who meet a first set of basic requirements are invited to sign up for a four-hour interview-interaction with trained selectors. During the interaction, applicants teach a five-minute sample lesson, produce a 20-minute writing sample, and participate in a 20-minute, one-on-one interview. The writing sample, a parent letter for example, is intended to reveal a candidate's critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as communication skills. The one-on-one interview is an opportunity for a selector to follow up on any aspect of the lesson or writing sample and to ask additional questions so that the selector can make a well-informed recommendation. Selectors write a summary and rate each candidate they interview. Of the applicants who reach the interaction screening, approximately 45 percent are recommended by the selectors. The final step in the application process involves additional review of files by program staff and experienced selectors. About 10 percent of the applicants who make it to this stage are eliminated in the file review process.

A multistage selection process is also used by the program in Texas Region XIII. An applicant who meets the baseline requirements for this program participates in a highly structured interview, the Gallup TeacherInsight™, completed online during the application process. A program leader in the candidate's credential specialization develops an overall score for a candidate, incorporating the Gallup interview results, overall GPA, course work GPA, information from the applicant's references, and other comments and observations. The final score, combined with input from Region XIII, determines which applicants are selected for each cohort of candidates.

The interview is perhaps the single most important aspect of the selection process for the special education program in Chico. Every candidate who has met state-required prescreening criteria goes through a structured interview conducted by a program team. The interview instrument is inspired by the Star Teacher Selection Interview developed by the Haberman Educational Foundation—a scenario-based instrument to predict how teacher candidates would deal with challenging and even stressful situations. The interview helps to gauge such qualities as whether a person is persistent, is a problem solver, is protective of learners and learning, can translate theory into practice, and can use successful approaches with students who have characteristics that put them at risk for school failure. For the Chico program, the interview is tailored to rural special education teaching. It seeks to evaluate, for example, a candidate's reasons for becoming a teacher and working with exceptional children, prior commitment to exceptional children, and skills in communication and collaboration. This interview process also requires applicants to produce an essay. Program team members use a rubric to score the applicants, and only those above a high cutoff point are admitted to the program. As a program adviser notes, "The interview process makes it clear to candidates that this is a rigorous program. Before we used it, candidates would get into the program and then say, 'I had no idea this would be so hard.'"
Interviews are also part of the application process in the smaller programs that recruit and screen to meet specific local needs. The Wichita program uses a structured interview (see figure 4) and scoring rubric and the regional program in Texas conducts an interview with each applicant.

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