NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 25, 2009

To become a certified teacher, prospective teachers must be college graduates who have taken a specific set of education-related courses, and who have pursued studies at a college within the state where they expect to teach, because it is often only within that state that students can get the course required for state certification.  However, these requirements limit the supply of certified teachers, and as a result, serious teaching shortages are occurring, says Paul Peterson, director of the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Government.

Minority teachers are in especially short supply:

  • In 2004, only 14.1 percent of the nation's teachers were African American or Hispanic, even though these ethnic groups comprise 26.5 percent of the adult population.
  • In response, 47 states have adopted alternative certification measures.

But are they truly genuine, or just merely symbolic, asks Peterson?  According to a recent study:

  • The index of minority representation was considerably higher in the 21 states with genuine alternative certification than in the 30 states with a symbolic substitute or no alternative certification.
  • In the 3 genuine alternative certification states with the largest total populations (California, Texas and Florida), the index of representation was 0.56, 0.68 and 0.72, respectively.
  • In the 3 largest states with a merely symbolic or no alternative certification option (New York, Illinois and Ohio), the index of representation was 0.38, 0.33 and 0.51, respectively.

In other words, genuine alternative certification seems to give minority adults interested in a career in education greater opportunity to become a teacher.

However, most studies show very little connection with a teacher's classroom effectiveness and certification status.  Nor is there convincing evidence that minority teachers are less effective at teaching minority students.  Researchers have found little reason to equate certification with "highly qualified," says Peterson.

Source: Paul E. Peterson, "What Happens When States Have Genuine Alternative Certification?" Hoover Institution, Winter 2009.


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