Alternative Route to Certification Programs in Special Education: What States are
Offering and What We Know About Them
What preparation options have states made available to
prospective special education teachers?
What are the requirements for these various options?
How do they differ in terms of (a) program
sponsorship/alignment, (b) program length/intensity, (c)
participant profile, and (d) specific program characteristics?
How do state and district policies affect the supply, quality, and
retention of alternatively certified teachers?
*Michael S. Rosenberg, Ph.D.
Department of Special Education
Johns Hopkins University
100 Whitehead Hall
3400 N. Charles Street Baltimore, MD
*Lynn Boyer, Ph.D.
West Virginia Department of Education
Director Office of Special Education
Building 6, Room 304
1900 Kanawha Blvd. East
Charleston, WV 25305
Toll Free: 1-800-642-8541
Description of the Study
At the same time that rigorous teacher preparation standards are being hailed as the
bedrock of teacher quality, traditional sources of special education teacher supply -
freshly minted graduates of university degree programs have been unable to meet the
growing demand for teachers. Not surprisingly, this need for high quality teachers,
particularly in high demand areas such as math, science, and special education, has been
a major impetus for the emergence and growth of alternative route to certification (AR)
programs. Indeed, the U.S. Department of Education (2002) has proclaimed that "ARs, as
opposed to the traditional routes offered by colleges of education, streamline the process
of certification to move candidates into the classroom on a fast-track basis" (p. 15).
Candidates are required to pass the same certification or licensure exams, but coursework
in educational philosophy, pedagogy, and practice teaching are either shortened or
Still, we know very little about the nature and extent of AR programs in special
education. In a comprehensive review of AR programs in special education, Rosenberg
and Sindelar (2001) found that while large numbers of uncredentialed personnel are
receiving training that leads to certification, there is very little empirical research on the
nature and efficacy of specific programs in the professional literature. It was asserted that
the available literature represented merely the "tip of the AR iceberg" and that a large
underground economy for teaching credentials is in place in many areas of the nation.
Moreover, so variable have AR programs become that treating them as a homogenous
class may no longer be reasonable; LEAs, and IHEs vary greatly with options ranging
from Spartan emergency certification survival training to sophisticated, high tech
programs for individuals with unique life experiences (Feistritzer, 1998; Hillkirk, 2000).
The purposes of this study are both to index and describe the breadth and depth of AR
programs currently being offered for the preparation of special education teachers. In
partnership with the National Clearinghouse for Professions in Special Education, we
have developed a searchable web-based data-base that lists and describes AR programs
for all 50 states. Descriptive data have been aggregated across programmatic dimensions
(Rosenberg & Sindelar, 2001), including (a) program sponsorship/alignment, (b) program
length/intensity, (c) participant profile, and (d) specific program characteristics (e.g.,
degree, categorical, duel, etc.). Consequently, we have been able to index the
proliferation of AR programs for special education preparation and describe the range of
program features that comprise these programs.
Feistritzer, C. E. (1998, February). Alternative teacher certification-An overview [On-
line]. Available: http://www.ncei.com/Alt-Teacher-Cert.htm
Hillkirk, R.K. (2000). Effective models for alternative programs in teacher education. In
D.J McIntyre & D.M. Byrd (Eds.), Research on effective models for teacher education:
Association of teacher educators yearbook VIII (pp. 195-202). Thousand Oaks, CA:
Rosenberg, M. S., & Sindelar, P. T. (2001). The proliferation of alternative routes to
certification in special education: A critical review of the literature. Arlington, VA: The
National Clearinghouse for Professions in Special Education, The Council for
Exceptional Children. Available: www.special-ed-careers.org.
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education, Office of Policy
Planning and Innovation (2002), Meeting the Highly Qualified Teachers Challenge: The
Secretary's Annual Report on Teacher Quality, Washington, D.C.: Author.
1. Certification officers in each of the states will be contacted by
the Clearinghouse; these officers will identify those individuals
responsible for monitoring AR programs.
2. Statewide information will be cross-referenced with Title II data
that reports on AR activity in each state.
3. A structured interview reflecting the four programmatic features
will be developed.
4. AR program directors will be contacted and a telephone
interview will be conducted.
5. Data will be aggregated for programs within and across states
as well as across programmatic features.
Timeline and Initial Findings
To date, 199 AR special education programs in 37 states have been
identified. Two states (CA & TX) account for 39.6 of the alternative
programs found. We have collected data on 95 of the programs. The
data indicate that there are creative partnerships among IHEs, SEAs,
and LEAs, and that instruction is delivered through a mix of
university-based coursework, district staff development, supervised
fieldwork, and distance education. The great majority of programs
used national standards to develop their offerings and they provide
support through mentors and well as stipends and salaries. Most
important, these programs are attracting new people to the
profession. The great majority of programs (83%) require full time
teaching in the schools, and almost half require less than 3 months of
preparation prior to entering the classroom as a teacher (nearly 15%
require no training at all). Complete demographic data are available
on PowerPoint presentation slides on this website.
We anticipate completing additional analyses on the data-base
including the investigation of relationships among programs of
varying lengths/intensities and the characteristics of participants in
AR programs by December, 2004.