The promise of alternative pathways may not be delivered

The promise of alternative pathways may not be delivered

(Mass.) Despite more teachers than ever entering the classroom after completing an alternative credentialing program, new research shows that there is still little evidence to suggest that these programs are of high quality.

Researchers at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, an independent policy research center based in Massachusetts, examined various pathway options for prospective teachers to complete the credentialing process faster. While some of the alternative routes were found to be faster, more flexible and less expensive, there was little evidence to suggest that they offered teaching candidates the same quality assurance and success in the workforce as the traditional two- or four-year degree.

At some for-profit institutions, for example, researchers found what they deemed “thoughtfully designed, high-quality programs,” but noted that a disproportionately large number of for-profit providers charged high prices, and delivered poor outcomes while making inflated claims about earnings and job placement.

“Until recently, negative consequences for this type of behavior have been few, even for providers that participate in the federal financial aid system and are therefore subject to oversight and accreditation,” authors of the report wrote. “That many alternative programs operate outside any system of quality assurance is also a cause for concern.”

The alternative credentialing model has been around since the 19th century, when independent trade schools were developed, and have been used to help train new teachers for more than 25 years. They’ve become increasingly popular in recent years as nearly every state grapples with a shortage of educators and seeks ways to fill the gaps quickly.

According to the report, total enrollment in apprenticeship or on-the-job-training programs increased by 50 percent in between 2008 and 2015; while overall enrollment in massive open online courses–known as MOOCs–grew from 17 million in 2015 to 35 million in 2016.

Competency-based programs are also becoming more popular, especially among industry professionals who already have accrued subject knowledge in the field and are looking to switch careers and join the educator workforce.

Critics of alternative credentialing programs argue that teaching candidates who participate in such programs do not receive the same level of rigorous training as their traditionally credentialed counterparts, and are often placed in schools located low-income communities or communities of color which already have the highest rates of ineffective teachers.

Researchers found that for many alternative pathways and credentialing programs, robust data on features, costs, enrollment and student outcomes are not available–and for the few programs for which there are data, authors of the report said that evidence of program quality is not promising. Without better quality assurance and more comprehensive, nuanced, longitudinal data on these programs, attempting to determine if alternative pathways produce quality educators is moot.

The report did note, however, that some traditional schools are beginning to incorporate ideas from alternative pathways, such as taking into account a student’s prior work experience in their field of study.

Authors of the study recommend that policymakers and leaders in the higher education:

  • Invest in a data system that captures longitudinal data on students’ experiences across the full array of postsecondary pathways, as well as information about providers and their programs and credentials;
  • Support rigorous research on the efficacy and return on investment of existing and emerging alternative pathways and the value of alternative credentials;
  • Adjust quality assurance processes to allow for accurate and comparable evaluation of alternative programs, and enforce quality standards for all providers; and
  • Integrate quality alternative pathways and credentials into the federal financial aid system.