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September 1, 1992
Vol. 50
No. 1

The Alternate Route: Texas Finds Success

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Joe Smith's comments about Texas's alternative certification programs were inaccurate. Not only are programs there growing dramatically, but they are also paving the way to effective teacher education.

In the November 1991 Educational Leadership, Joe M. Smith wrote of his concerns regarding New Jersey's alternative certification program (“The Alternate Route: Flaws in the New Jersey Plan”). Throughout his assessment, Smith reinforces his portrait of the New Jersey program's fundamental flaws with examples drawn from alternative certification programs being established in Texas.
Unfortunately, Smith's assertions about Texas reflect a lack of knowledge of how well our programs are working. No route to teacher certification is perfect, but rather than condemn a new and vital paradigm, we have sought solutions for the problem areas and benefited from our program's strengths. As a result, the programs that have evolved over the past six years not only do not have the flaws that Smith glibly enumerates, but they also represent a giant step forward from traditional teacher education programs that were so removed from classroom practice.

Problems: Funds and Time

Smith notes that districts have to provide additional supervision and mentoring from their own staffs and that the state provides no additional funds to do so. In Texas, the interns are required to pay on a monthly basis for released time for master teachers in their district. The State Board of Education builds adequate released time for mentors and supervisors into each alternative certification program and regularly monitors the adequacy of the allocated released time. Programs that do not meet the full promises of their proposal either improve the quality of their services or cease operation.
Careful paper documentation as well as documentation by personal intern interviews ensure that Texas mentors and supervisors have enough time to nurture new interns.

Collaboration, Not Rejection

Smith notes, somewhat accurately, that school district resources are taxed by the inclusion of high-quality, personnel-intensive teacher training programs. He is inaccurate, however, when he states that “Texas schools have acknowledged that their alternative route program drains their resources and, therefore, have cut back on the number of alternate route teachers they are training. . . .”
Texas alternative teacher certification programs are growing dramatically. The 1991–92 school year figures placed the intern count at nearly 2,000. The 1992–93 Houston Independent School District intern count is nearly 1,000. The projected statewide count is 2,700–3,000 for next year.
Rather than dismiss this important training as “too much trouble for the districts,” we sought ways to support interns by collaborating with regional service centers and universities. Colleges of education, regional education services centers, and school districts sit down together to generate all aspects of the teacher education program, both before the intern begins teaching and afterward.
Omission of this important difference between the New Jersey and Texas plans skirts the valuable influence of collaboration on traditional teacher education programs. Through collaboration, teacher education programs can build systemic relationships with school districts and master teachers, and college faculty receive accurate updates on rapidly changing student populations. Similarly, college-developed research and expertise continue to flow into alternative programs in Texas. Every program in Texas has college coursework either embedded into its curriculum and taught by college faculty or required as additional hours taken along with district or service-center provided curriculum.

The Essence of Supervision

Smith notes his concern that “67 percent of the alternate route teachers were not supervised on a daily basis when they taught, while only two student teachers (4 percent) were not supervised daily” (p. 33). In reality, the dynamics of supervision are more subtle than this simplistic comparison. What precisely does Smith define as “supervision”? In the Texas model, most interns see their mentors not only on a daily basis but on an hourly basis. They are down the hall or across from their classroom, often within conversing distance. Are the innumerable conversations that take place between mentor and intern on this hourly basis not defined as supervision? The beauty of the Texas model is that this assistance is available to support an intern in a real situation—full-time teaching in a real classroom with real, often at-risk, students—and not in a student teaching situation in which someone else's management system, guidelines for discipline, teaching style, and so on, are omnipresent.
In addition, principals and hiring teacher teams preview interns for a whole year doing realistically what they will be expected to do on the job. These are probably the reasons that Texas principals are asking for interns, often preferring them to graduates of traditional programs. Carefully screened with the Haberman screening interview device and selected at a ratio of about 1 in 20, interns are nurtured, trained intensively both before and after placement, and scrutinized during the intern year almost relentlessly. Recently, a principal told me about interns, “They're a little nervous. They've been supervised and guided, given courses and clinics, trained in this and that, evaluated, interviewed, and formally appraised. Of course, they're good. They're some of the best we have.”
For Texans, alternative programs are, in fact, so successful, that many traditional programs are converting to a model of alternative teacher certification known as the “center for professional development and technology.” The incentives to invest resources in programs that are producing excellent teachers could not be stronger. Much of the future of teacher education in Texas is being carved from the unequivocal successes of alternative teacher certification. Clearly, Smith's essay would have had more credibility if he had discussed only the New Jersey programs because Texas is finding success in alternative certification.

Delia Stafford is president and CEO of the Haberman Educational Foundation (HEF). In 1994, Stafford chartered the HEF to promote the research of Martin Haberman. Thanks largely to the foundation, Haberman's education models are being used in more than 370 school districts across the United States, especially in schools with large populations of students who are classified as at risk. Stafford trains school leaders to use research-based protocols for selecting teachers and principals who will work well in schools serving large numbers of children in poverty. She travels nationally to conducts professional development training events.

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