Innovations in Education: Alternative Routes to Teacher Certification
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I am pleased to introduce the fifth publication in the Innovations in Education series: Alternate Routes to Teacher Certification. This series, published by my Department's Office of Innovation and Improvement, identifies concrete, real-world examples of innovations in five important areas, in addition to this one: public school choice, supplemental educational services, charter schools, magnet schools, and alternate pathways to school leadership.

World War II General Omar Bradley once said, "Teachers are the true soldiers of democracy. Others can defend it, but only teachers can create it." I have a deep respect for the teaching profession. My parents were both educators and taught me that reading and studying hard could help me transcend my small, segregated Mississippi town. I went on to become a teacher and a coach myself, and eventually served as dean of a school of education. In my role as superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, I hired thousands of teachers and came to understand what it took to be successful in the classroom.

For all these reasons I have been proud, in my role as secretary of education, to call for talented individuals across our nation to enter the most noble of professions: teaching.

And yet, in too many of our states and communities, lots of talented people find that they cannot say yes to teaching because of hoops and hurdles that have been placed in their way. If the only option for midcareer professionals interested in teaching is to go back to school for several years, then complete an unpaid student teaching assignment, all before receiving a paycheck, many wonderful candidates with families and mortgages will have no choice but to say no. And that is a great loss for our country.

Fortunately, that is starting to change. Across this land, states, school districts, nonprofit groups, and now even schools of education are creating alternative pathways into the teaching profession. These "alternative route" programs vary tremendously, but the best ones recruit widely, select only the very best candidates, provide intensive training, and support their teachers regularly for several years once they are in the classroom. And they are showing great promise.

As a former dean of a school of education, I respect the important role that traditional teacher preparation programs play. They will always produce a large percentage of our teachers, and while some have struggled in the past, we are seeing promising signs of improvement there, too. (For examples, read my third annual report on teacher quality, available at But these programs were designed for undergraduate students who decide early in their lives to become a teacher. Midcareer professionals, recent liberal arts graduates, retired military personnel, and others bring life experiences and, in many cases, a maturity to teaching. Their preparation needs are different than for traditional candidates, and finally those needs are being met. (And I am glad to see many schools of education responding to the new competition by offering their own streamlined, alternative route programs.)

I have been a strong supporter of alternative routes to teaching that come in many different forms—from the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, which is developing a challenging, competency-based route into the profession, to alternative route programs supported by the federal Transition to Teaching program or developed in partnership with The New Teacher Project, to recruiting initiatives like Troops-to-Teachers and Teach for America. I am also proud to have launched the National Center for Alternative Certification, which connects talented teaching candidates with alternative route programs through its Web site ( And, starting this year, the Center will also provide hands-on technical assistance to alternative route programs across the country, in large part based on the lessons in this publication.

Which brings us to the alternative routes featured herein. We scoured the country looking for programs that had stood the test of time and were showing signs of positive results. We pushed and prodded to learn the secrets of their success, in important areas like recruitment, selection, preservice training, and ongoing support and mentoring. And we have put it all together in this publication, in the hope that new alternative route programs, or those trying to get better, will not have to "recreate the wheel." While these programs should not be seen as "models" and the case study methodology used does not provide the type of information about cause-and-effect that scientifically based research does, we do hope that others can learn from these examples.

Creating alternative routes to certification is not a silver bullet—and it is not the entire solution to our nation's teacher quality challenge. But it is an important part of the solution, and I have confidence that rigorous alternative route programs like those featured in this book will bring thousands of talented "soldiers of democracy" into our schools, and all of us will be the better for it.

Rod Paige,
U.S. Secretary of Education
November 2004

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Last Modified: 04/18/2008