Adding Avenues for Alternative Certification

By Joseph Hedger

New Jersey policymakers implemented the first alternative certification program in 1983, according to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Since then, such programs have become an important factor in the education workforce. As of 2011–12, about 40 percent of teacher preparation entities were offering an alternative pathway to certification. As evidenced by meeting agendas of state boards of education, these programs come in various forms, including online preparation programs, transition-to-teaching methods, and competency-based lateral entry certifications. Through them, boards hope to more flexibly address teacher shortages in particular subject areas and locales.

Individuals seeking alternative certification come to the game later than those in traditional routes, where certification is achieved by completing an approved bachelor’s degree in education. Alternative certification programs vary widely from state to state, so a broad definition is hard to nail down. However, most accelerate some aspect of the certification process so qualified individuals can begin teaching while they complete the program.

Approved in February 2017 by the Indiana board, the Christel House Academy developed a new transition-to-teaching alternative program, called IndyTeach, designed to certify and place qualified education candidates into a diverse, high-poverty urban environment. This transition-to-teaching program provides a year-long apprenticeship in its own Christel House Schools to prepare individuals who have already obtained bachelor’s degrees to serve students in poverty.

Other state boards have focused on online programs. For example, in May 2017, North Carolina approved a new competency-based alternative licensure program created by the North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill colleges of education. Called Pathway to Practice NC, this accelerated, online preparation program for teachers seeking to move into new content areas provides nine online modules using a learning management system called D2L’s Brightspace to tailor the pace of learning. Applicants must be hired professionals with a provisional license in math, science, English/language arts, or social studies, as well as a passing score on the Praxis II exam. Its pilot phase began in fall 2017.

In August 2017, the board in Arizona approved online provider American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence as an alternative teacher preparation program. Currently used in 13 states, this program emerged from a 2001 effort at the U.S. Department of Education to add alternatives to traditional certification; candidates need only a bachelor’s degree to enroll.

Other avenues for alternative teacher licensure include the Greenville Alternative Teacher Education (GATE) program, approved by South Carolina in January 2017. Partnered with Public Education Partners, GATE seeks to prepare and sustain excellent Greenville County teachers in math, science, French, or Spanish. It does this by placing the candidate, who has already earned a bachelor’s and passed the Praxis, into a GATE Teacher position, with salary, classroom, and participation in ongoing, specialized professional development and coursework, as well as support and supervision from a Teacher Support Team, for a three-year period.

Joseph Hedger is NASBE’s associate editor. He can be reached at