STRENGTHEN TEACHER QUALITY
Innovations in Education: Alternative Routes to Teacher Certification
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Part II: Program Profiles


Alternative Certification Program, Hillsborough County, Florida

Certification/Degree Elementary
Secondary
Partners School District of
Hillsborough County
Program Initiated 1998
Total Program Graduates 530
2004 Candidate Cohort Rolling
admission;
no cohort
Candidate Demographics 59% Female
41% Male
71% White
18% Afr. Am.
8% Hispanic
3% Asian Am.
(2003 data)
Program Duration 1–2 years
Cost per Candidate/Who Pays $1,600
District pays $800
Candidate pays $800

To address growing shortages of qualified teachers, while providing the best education opportunities for all students, the School District of Hillsborough County (SDHC) created its Alternative Certification Program (ACP) offering teaching and training opportunities to non-education majors. In the 1980s, Florida’s State Department of Education had put alternative programs in the state universities, but over time it became clear that the alternatives were no longer alternative. According to SDHC’s director of training and staff development, these alternatives had "folded right into the university as a straight graduate program." In 1997, the legislature decided to give districts the option of creating their own alternative programs. Hillsborough’s program was created in 1998-1999.

SDHC’s general hiring practice for a long time was to first seek experienced teachers from other districts, then experienced teachers from other states, followed by student teachers, and, finally, alternative route teachers. The director of training and staff development says this was a hold-over from the 1980s when alternative certification was seen as a place for "leftover hippies." In ACP’s early stages, she says, school administrators were poorly disposed to its graduate teachers, many of whom got the "cold shoulder." But as administrators saw classrooms that would be teacherless at the start of the school year, they accepted ACP teachers. Enough ACP teachers have since joined SDHC schools and been successful that administrators no longer shun alternative certification candidates.

ACP initially focused on math and science, and served "infield" candidates, which meant that if a candidate’s degree major was in chemistry, then that is what he or she taught. Candidates went through the ACP to gain pedagogical knowledge and relied upon their university experience for the content in the subject they would be teaching. Three years later, however, the program was expanded to serve charter school teachers and "out-of-field" candidates—those who wanted to teach a specific subject, such as math, but did not have the college course work to support that choice. Ultimately, out-of-field participants are responsible for gaining content-area knowledge for the field in which they want to teach by taking university courses, and the ACP is responsible for the pedagogy and teaching methods portion of the certification.

ACP candidates have two years to complete the program, but most need only one year. Those who take two years do so on the recommendation of their mentor or building principal, who feels that the added time with ACP support and supervision will benefit the candidate. To gain Florida certification, the candidates must complete the SDHC ACP, pass a state General Knowledge Exam, the Florida Educator Examination, and the Florida Subject Area Exam, and meet the requirements of state law.

Recruitment and Selection

The district runs 6 to 10 ACP evening informational meetings each year, and in the summer it hosts two large ACP recruitment fairs. Approximately 900 people attend these sessions. On occasion, the program will get news coverage, which frequently results in several calls to the office of Training and Staff Development the next day.

Since its inception in 1989, 1,327 candidates have been accepted into the SDHC ACP, and the program has grown over 300 percent in the past five years. Of the 530 teachers certified since 1998, 87 percent remain in the district. One ACP staff member says the program’s biggest appeal is its accessible nature and low cost. ACP candidates can enter the program at any time during the year, once they have been hired. This makes midyear candidates eligible for support and instruction once they enter the classroom, as opposed to waiting until the fall.

Candidate Training: Content and Pedagogy

The ACP recommends a 180-day completion timeline for the program’s two components, course work and field work (the internship year), each completed in conjunction with the other. Eight required courses are based upon the 12 Accomplished Practices established by the Florida Department of Education:

  1. Teacher Induction/Classroom Management (18 hours)— based on Harry Wong’s The First Days of School.

  2. Professionalism Through Integrity: Code of Ethics (3 hours)—training component based on the Florida Department of Education’s Code of Ethics and Principles of Professional Conduct.

  3. Transition Into Teaching (24—30 hours)—examines the developmental needs of K-12 students and strategies to meet those needs.

  4. Effective Teaching Strategies (18—24 hours)—focuses on the six domains of the Florida Performance Measurement System (FPMS).

  5. Instructional Strategies Through Cooperative Learning (24 hours)—based upon the work of Johnson and Johnson and Spencer Kagan, and presents knowledge, skills, and strategies to implement cooperative learning.

  6. Integrating Technology in Education (15 hours)— emphasizes ways to use technology in the classroom.

  7. Crisis Intervention for Educators (3 hours)—video—based course designed to help educators recognize the signs of emotional distress, behavior indicators of physical and emotional abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, and neglect.

  8. English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Independent Reading Course (3 hours)—provides ESOL awareness for educators.

These courses help participants gain the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to successfully demonstrate each of the components in the 12 Accomplished Practices. Course work is aimed at all levels and is non-subject-specific, with the exception of the ESOL course that addresses the needs of English language learners in the district.

Course work is completed in three places concurrently with field work. Teacher Induction and Professionalism Through Integrity are offered through the district’s New Teacher Orientation. Crisis Intervention for Educators and ESOL courses are offered through independent study on the participant’s campus. The remaining courses are completed through district-sponsored classes. There is no specific order in which classes must be completed, but there are obvious benefits to taking specific classes (e.g., Teacher Induction) early in the process.

Teachers employed by the district, trained in professional development, teach the ACP courses during evenings or on weekends. One trainer comments that being in the classroom all day helps her to bond with the ACP candidates because they are in the same boat as her students—"tired and exhausted from the day, but excited to be learning new things!"

Within the field work component of the program, a three-cycle observation process takes place over 36 weeks focusing on the instructional performance of the candidate (see figure 7). This includes a minimum of seven data collection observations, three "formal" observations, and work with a mentor to ensure the candidate is making progress. The observation cycle, which includes specific tasks that must be completed, is conducted by the ACP mentor in addition to the internal support staff observations.

Candidates are also required to develop a portfolio. The school administrator is in charge of the portfolio process and works closely with the candidate teacher and the ACP staff. The school administrator also works with the candidate teacher’s mentor to gather evidence, becomes knowledgeable about the guidelines and methods of documentation of accomplished practices, and distributes and collects the ESOL and CRISIS Intervention test. It is up to each administrator to work with each candidate individually to support the cycle of the program he or she is in. One principal commented, "It is a lot of work to plan it out for each teacher; it’s tough, but the benefits make it worth it."

Mentoring, Supervision, and Support

The mentoring component was added to the ACP in 2000 based on the Steve Barkley coaching and mentoring model. ACP mentors are intended to be friends, coaches, and support people who are nonjudgmental, understanding, and nonthreatening. These external mentors are experienced administrators formerly employed by SDHC. As former administrators, they come with training and experience in teacher support and evaluation. On occasion, university personnel have acted as ACP mentors, but with limited success. One ACP staff member hypothesizes that previous administrators possess a "commitment to the organization" that people outside the district may not have, and she screens for these characteristics in choosing mentors. Another bonus of using past administrators is that they have the respect and authority to speak to another principal "administrator to administrator" as they observe and advocate for the candidate teacher.

Mentors typically work with 12 to 15 candidate teachers at a time and are generally assigned to the same campuses or those close to each other to minimize travel in such a large county district. Their role is to act as a liaison between the teacher, the campus support team, and the Office of Training and Staff Development. They also fill in the information gaps for any course work that the candidate has yet to complete. Visits typically last an hour and mentors are paid $60 per visit and their travel costs. Mentors work approximately three days a week, meeting with four to five candidates a day.

Observations are based on the Florida Performance Measurement System, a screening and observation instrument tied to the 12 Accomplished Practices. Using the information gained from this instrument, mentors can recommend additional professional development, set up a model lesson, organize departmental support, and offer praise to candidate teachers. Mentors also review lesson plans, grade-book protocol, classroom management skills, and other district-based processes the candidate might be struggling with.

Mentors advocate for their candidate teachers in many ways. They review the candidates’ schedule to ensure that it is conducive to the needs of a new teacher, they keep an eye out for too many duties beyond the classroom, and they make sure that teachers are not "coerced" into accepting sponsorship positions such as cheerleading or other school clubs. Mentors frequently will go to the administrator and lobby to have changes made if they feel the candidate teacher is overloaded with a difficult schedule or too many duties.

Funding

The ACP program is funded mostly with State Categorical Teacher Training funds and a few grants. Title I funds can also be used. SDHC receives $2.5 million each year from the state to run the program. The program cost per candidate is $1,600, which includes materials. SDHC and the candidate each pay $800. An ACP manager estimates that while tuition will rise, the program will remain extremely competitive with university programs that charge about $3,000 for certification.

Success Indicators

Between July 1998 and June 2004, 530 teachers have completed the ACP, with 87 percent remaining in the district. The overall completion rate of candidates is 98 percent and the retention rate is 85 percent.

Key Success Factors

SDHC ACP offers a flexible, low-cost method for non-education majors to enter the teaching field quickly. Based on lessons learned, program officers stress the following:

  • Have "buy-in" from administrators, human resources, and district staff development teams before starting up. Building principals who will host the candidates need to believe in the program; the human resources department, which hires the teachers, needs to be kept in the loop, especially if it deals with certification issues; and district staff development teams need to know the weaknesses of the candidates and be prepared to offer assistance or additional professional development
  • Be willing to make courses accessible and change them yearly to meet the needs of candidates. Host courses all over the district and at schools that are hosting other evening programs so that you can "cost share" to have a location open at night
  • An assessment process is important. Rely upon portfolios, mentor feedback, and course work results to guide the program
  • Have the "behind-the-scenes" data system set up before you begin. You cannot do things manually; work closely with your technology department so that the technology can work for you.
  • Reevaluate the program continuously. Provide obvious steps for completion and "next steps" to the participants. Rely upon administrator and teacher surveys for feedback. This ensures that you will continue to meet the needs of your teachers, principals, and district as times changes.

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Last Modified: 04/18/2008