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Characteristics of Effective Alternative Teacher Certification Programs

by Daniel C. Humphrey, Marjorie E. Wechsler & Heather J. Hough


Alternative certification plays a central role in the production of new teachers in many states, yet little is known about the characteristics of an effective program. Given that the variation within programs is as great as the variation between programs, the common methodology of comparing programs is unable to discern the qualities of programs with positive teacher outcomes.

Focus of study

This paper is based on an analysis of seven alternative certification programs to determine the characteristics of effective programs. It presents findings from an analysis designed to shed light on the effects of personal, program, and contextual inputs on teaching outcomes. To account for within-program variation, the analysis clusters individuals across programs based on common background characteristics, program experiences, and school contexts.

Research design

We employed multiple data collection activities at both the program and participant levels. We conducted case studies of seven alternative certification programs, including multiple interviews with key personnel and document reviews. We surveyed program participants twice—once at the beginning of their participation in the program, and again at the end of their first year of teaching. We also observed a sample of participants teaching and interviewed them both at the beginning and end of their first year of teaching.


We found that each program, personal, or contextual element analyzed impacted various outcomes differently, and each contributed to the development of skilled, confident teachers. The element with the strongest effect on all measured outcomes, however, was school context.


Overall, findings suggest that an effective alternative certification program places candidates in schools with strong leadership, a collegial atmosphere, and adequate materials. Effective programs select well-educated individuals or work to strengthen subject-matter knowledge, and recognize that previous classroom experience is an asset. Effective programs provide carefully constructed and timely coursework tailored to candidates’ backgrounds and school contexts. And, effective programs provide trained mentors who have the time and resources to plan lessons with candidates, share curricula, demonstrate lessons, and provide feedback after frequent classroom observations.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 110 Number 1, 2008, p. 1-63 ID Number: 12613, Date Accessed: 10/22/2018 8:24:02 AM

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