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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

Teacher Preparation

June 2017


What does the research say about effective alternative teacher licensing approaches, especially in hard-to-staff geographic areas?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, descriptive studies, and literature reviews on alternative teacher licensing. In particular, we focused on the effectiveness of teacher licensing approaches and looked for details relating to hard-to-staff geographic areas. For details on the databases and sources, key words and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of references and resources provided in this response, but offer this list to you for your information only.

Research References

Alhamisi, J. C. (2011). Comparison of alternative and traditional teacher preparation programs for first year special education teachers in northwest Ohio. Journal of the National Association for Alternative Certification, 6(1), 13-25. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This study compares knowledge as measured by grade point averages and Praxis II scores between first-year special education teachers who completed one university’s alternative teacher preparation program (ATTP) and those who completed the university’s traditional teacher preparation program (TTPP). A total of 33 teachers, 15 from the ATTP and 18 from the TTPP participated in the study. Findings indicate that teachers from both programs had similar outcomes on the Praxis II licensure exam and final grade point averages. Although the sample was small, findings of this study indicate that both programs adequately prepared teachers to work with special education populations.”

American Institutes for Research. (2005). Transition to Teaching grant program: 2002 cohort case studies. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The Transition to Teaching (TTT) program is described in Part C, Innovations for Teacher Quality, Subpart 1, Chapter B of the ‘No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.’ Its purposes are ‘(a) to recruit and retain highly qualified mid-career professionals (including highly qualified paraprofessionals) and recent graduates of an institution of higher education (IHE), as teachers in high need schools, including recruiting teachers through alternative routes to certification; and (b) to encourage the development and expansion of alternative routes to certification under state-approved programs that enable individuals to be eligible for teacher certification within a reduced period of time, relying on the experience, expertise, and academic qualifications of an individual, or other factors in lieu of traditional course work in the field of education.’ TTT participants are required to teach in high need schools in high need school districts for at least 3 years. To meet the analysis and reporting goals of the TTT program and the evaluation, visits to eight distinctive sites were conducted during the fall and winter of 2004-05 to obtain a micro-level view of the development and implementation of individual projects. The site visits provided insights into the design and day-to-day implementation of the components of TTT projects. This report delivers an overview of the site visit component of the TTT evaluation. Specifically, it does the following: (1) Describes the process that was used to select the eight sites and provides a snapshot of each; (2) Discusses major themes that emerged from the data and relates them to the literature on alternative certification programs; and (3) Presents case studies of the sites that highlight the distinctive approaches used across the United States.”

Blazer, C. (2012). What the research says about alternative teacher certification programs. Information Capsule. Volume 1104. Miami, FL: Research Services, Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The shortage of qualified teachers across the U.S. has contributed to the popularity of alternative certification programs. These programs are designed to attract individuals into the teaching profession by allowing candidates to become certified without having to complete a traditional teacher education program... Research indicates that most alternative certification programs provide a viable source of high-quality teachers and even increase the diversity of the teaching workforce. Many studies have found that alternatively certified teachers can produce student achievement gains comparable to teachers certified in traditional programs. In fact, evidence suggests that teachers’ years of experience, rather than the manner in which they obtained their certification, is a more reliable indicator of their future ability to positively impact student achievement. Similarly, the school at which a teacher is placed has also been found to play a larger role in their effectiveness than the route through which certification is obtained. There is great variation in the quality of alternative certification programs and comparisons across programs are difficult. In addition, participants tend to experience the same program in dramatically different ways, depending upon their educational backgrounds, past experiences, knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs. In other words, many factors contribute to a teacher’s effectiveness, including the school to which they are assigned, their years of teaching experience, and their content area knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs. The route through which certification is obtained is just one of these factors. Examples of noteworthy alternative certification programs operating across the U.S. are provided at the conclusion of this report.”

Bowe, A., Braam, M., Lawrenz, F., & Kirchhoff, A. (2011). Comparison of alternative and traditional teacher certification programs in terms of effectiveness in encouraging STEM pre-service teachers to teach in high need schools. Journal of the National Association for Alternative Certification, 6(1), 26–45. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Central to the debate regarding the effectiveness of alternative and traditional teacher certification programs is the question of providing high quality teachers for high need schools. The Robert F. Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, funded by the National Science Foundation, supports both alternative and traditional routes to teacher certification nationwide and has similar requirements for all teacher candidates. It, therefore, provided a unique opportunity to compare alternative and traditional programs in terms of their perceived effectiveness in encouraging potential STEM teachers to teach in high need schools. Data came from a comprehensive, mixed methods evaluation of the Noyce Program and included 434 surveys completed by Noyce scholars, and 19 interviews with school district representatives. Comparisons between alternative and traditional programs were made based on scholars’ demographics, affective characteristics, background experiences, and beliefs about teaching. Results demonstrated that Noyce scholars from alternative and traditional programs were similar in demographic and most affective characteristics but different in background experiences and beliefs about teaching. Moreover, the data suggest that alternative routes might attract more candidates who are more likely to teach in high need schools.”

Buck, B. & O’Brien, T. (2005). Eight questions on teacher licensure and certification: What does the research say? Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This document is a summary of the findings of an extensive review by the Education Commission of the States (ECS) of empirical research on the effectiveness of current approaches to licensing and certifying teachers. The research review focused on eight questions (and several subquestions) that are of particular interest and concern to policy and education leaders: (1) What kinds of pedagogical knowledge and practice are related to a teacher’s effectiveness in promoting student achievement? (2) To what extent is the selectivity and rigor of teacher preparation programs associated with teaching quality and effectiveness? (3) What is the relationship between verbal ability and a teacher’s effectiveness? (4) Is there empirical evidence for the validity and reliability of tests and methods frequently used in evaluating a teacher’s effectiveness or quality? (5) To what extent is teaching experience associated with teaching quality and effectiveness? (6) To what extent does initial licensure and certification ensure a teacher’s effectiveness? (7) What is the likely impact of raising teacher licensing and certification standards, specifically in raising cutoff scores on state- mandated tests? and (8) Is there empirical evidence of differences in the qualifications and performance of teachers prepared through traditional teacher education programs and those prepared through alternative certification programs?”

Clark, M. A., Chiang, H. S., Silva, T., McConnell, S., Sonnenfeld, K., Erbe, A., & Puma, M. (2013). The effectiveness of secondary math teachers from Teach For America and the Teaching Fellows programs (NCEE 2013–4015). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Teach For America (TFA) and the Teaching Fellows programs are an important and growing source of teachers of hard-to-staff subjects in high-poverty schools, but comprehensive evidence of their effectiveness has been limited. This report presents findings from the first large-scale random assignment study of secondary math teachers from these programs. The study separately examined the effectiveness of TFA and Teaching Fellows teachers, comparing secondary math teachers from each program with other secondary math teachers teaching the same math courses in the same schools. The study focused on secondary math because this is a subject in which schools face particular staffing difficulties. The study had two main findings, one for each program studied: (1) TFA teachers were more effective than the teachers with whom they were compared. On average, students assigned to TFA teachers scored 0.07 standard deviations higher on end-of-year math assessments than students assigned to comparison teachers, a statistically significant difference. This impact is equivalent to an additional 2.6 months of school for the average student nationwide; and (2) Teaching Fellows were neither more nor less effective than the teachers with whom they were compared. On average, students of Teaching Fellows and students of comparison teachers had similar scores on end-of-year math assessments.”

Clark, M., McConnell, S., Constantine, J., & Chiang, H. (2013). Addressing teacher shortages in disadvantaged schools: Lessons from two Institute of Education Sciences studies. NCEE Evaluation Brief. (NCEE 2013-4018). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Schools serving low-income students struggle to attract effective teachers, particularly in science and math. In response to these staffing difficulties, states have tried to lower the barriers to becoming a teacher by establishing "alternative routes to certification." These routes enable teachers to begin teaching before completing all the requirements for certification and, in many cases, require less education coursework than traditional teacher preparation routes in the same states. Currently, as many as two-fifths of new teachers enter the profession through alternative routes.”

Cobia, D. C., Stephens, C. E., & Sherer, G. (2015). FOCUS: A state-wide initiative to select and retain transition teachers. Journal of the National Association for Alternative Certification, 10(2), 17–31. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Through Focus on Change in Understanding Staff and Staffing Systems in Georgia Public Schools (FOCUS), over 500 teachers of record were recruited, selected, and placed in Georgia’s high-need schools. Teachers in the first three cohorts were retained at very high levels as well as achieving full certification. Project outcomes also included the consolidation of Georgia’s six alternative pathways to certification under one area and the development and implementation of a hybrid model of teacher preparation. Additional sustainability initiatives include the development and launch of two new technological tools to be used by local education agencies to predict and prepare for staffing needs.”

Constantine, J., Player D., Silva, T., Hallgren, K., Grider, M., & Deke, J. (2009). An evaluation of teachers trained through different routes to certification, final report (NCEE 2009-4043). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This study addresses two questions related to teacher preparation and certification: (1) What are the relative effects on student achievement of teachers who chose to be trained through different routes to certification and how do observed teacher practices vary by chosen route to certification?; and (2) What aspects of certification programs (such as the amount of coursework, the timing of coursework relative to being the lead teacher in the classroom, the core coursework content) are associated with teacher effectiveness? In 63 study schools, every grade that contained at least one eligible alternatively certified (AC) and one eligible traditionally certified (TC) teacher was included. Students in these study grades were randomly assigned to be in the class of an AC or a TC teacher. Students were tested at the beginning of the school year as a baseline measure and at the end of the year as an outcome. Classroom instruction was observed at one point during the year as an outcome. Reported findings include: (1) Both the AC and the TC programs with teachers in the study were diverse in the total instruction they required for their candidates; (2) While teachers trained in TC programs receive all their instruction (and participate in student teaching) prior to becoming regular full-time teachers, AC teachers do not necessarily begin teaching without having received any formal instruction; (3) There were no statistically significant differences between the AC and TC teachers in this study in their average scores on college entrance exams, the selectivity of the college that awarded their bachelor’s degree, or their level of educational attainment; (4) There was no statistically significant difference in performance between students of AC teachers and those of TC teachers; (5) There is no evidence from this study that greater levels of teacher training coursework were associated with the effectiveness of AC teachers in the classroom; and (6) There is no evidence that the content of coursework is correlated with teacher effectiveness.”

Darling-Hammond, L., Holtzman, D. J., Gatlin, S. J., & Heilig, J. V. (2005). Does teacher preparation matter? Evidence about teacher certification, Teach for America, and teacher effectiveness. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 13(42). Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Recent debates about the utility of teacher education have raised questions about whether certified teachers are, in general, more effective than those who have not met the testing and training requirements for certification, and whether some candidates with strong liberal arts backgrounds might be at least as effective as teacher education graduates. This study examines these questions with a large student-level data set from Houston, Texas that links student characteristics and achievement with data about their teachers’ certification status, experience, and degree levels from 1995–2002. The data set also allows an examination of whether Teach for America (TFA) candidates—recruits from selective universities who receive a few weeks of training before they begin teaching—are as effective as similarly experienced certified teachers. In a series of regression analyses looking at 4th and 5th grade student achievement gains on six different reading and mathematics tests over a six-year period, we find that certified teachers consistently produce stronger student achievement gains than do uncertified teachers. These findings hold for TFA recruits as well as others. Controlling for teacher experience, degrees, and student characteristics, uncertified TFA recruits are less effective than certified teachers, and perform about as well as other uncertified teachers. TFA recruits who become certified after 2 or 3 years do about as well as other certified teachers in supporting student achievement gains; however, nearly all of them leave within three years. Teachers’ effectiveness appears strongly related to the preparation they have received for teaching.”

Goe, L. (2014). Alternative routes to teaching: What do we know about effective policies? Policy Snapshot. Washington, DC: Centers for Great Teachers and Leaders at American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Creating a pipeline of great teachers for all schools and students in each state is a crucial policy goal. Strengthening teacher pipelines requires states to examine multiple policy areas, including certification requirements, educator evaluation, compensation and career ladders, educator environment (e.g., working conditions), and the range of pathways that teachers take to enter the profession. This Policy Snapshot from the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders (GTL Center), brings into focus one policy area that governors, state legislatures, and state education agencies consider when weighing options for strengthening teacher pipelines: alternative routes to teaching. To help inform state-level deliberations regarding this topic, current research was reviewed and synthesized and a policy scan to examine common practices across states was conducted. The results are summarized in the following sections: (1) Outcomes: Do Preparation Pathways Matter for Student Achievement and Teacher Recruitment and Retention?; and (2) Research-to-Policy: Strategies for Setting Effective Policy for Alternative Routes. Sections include short spotlights on existing alternative pathways policies, which were selected because they provide examples of several of the characteristics and strategies described in the accompanying section. Further information about the research and common practices discussed, as well a detailed overview of state policies on alternative certification, are available from the GTL Center upon request.”

Isaacs, M. L., Elliott, E. M., McConney, A.,Wachholz, P., Greene, P., & Greene, M. (2007). Evaluating “quality” methods of filling the “teacher gap”: Results of a pilot study with early career teachers. Journal of the National Association for Alternative Certification, 2(2), 5–22. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Challenges for meeting the highly-qualified teacher demand, exacerbated by the critical shortage of teachers, have necessitated a variety of preparation routes for those entering the profession of teaching. This pilot study examined teacher confidence and self efficacy related to teacher preparedness within the first three years of employment. Specifically, the study examined preparation experience perceptions of early career teachers. All teachers who were employed three years or less from three Florida school districts were invited to participate. Data were analyzed and aggregated according to teacher preparation type—traditional or non-traditional (alternative) program. Participants indicated their likelihood of remaining in the program, district, and school as well as their degrees of confidence in preparation for the competencies identified. Overall results as well as differences between those who completed a traditional teacher preparation program and those with a non-traditional teacher preparation program are presented. Implications for training priorities and replicating research are discussed.”

Kane, T. J., Rockoff, J. E., & Staiger, D. O. (2006). What does certification tell us about teacher effectiveness? Evidence from New York City. (NBER Working Paper No. 12155). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “We use six years of data on student test performance to evaluate the effectiveness of certified, uncertified, and alternatively certified teachers in the New York City public schools. On average, the certification status of a teacher has at most small impacts on student test performance. However, among those with the same certification status, there are large and persistent differences in teacher effectiveness. This evidence suggests that classroom performance during the first two years, rather than certification status, is a more reliable indicator of a teacher’s future effectiveness. We also evaluate turnover among teachers with different certification status, and the impact on student achievement of hiring teachers with predictably high turnover. Given relatively modest estimates of experience differentials, even high turnover groups (such as Teach for America participants) would have to be only slightly more effective in their first year to offset the negative effects of their high exit rates.”

Karge, B. D., & McCabe, M. (2014). Quality alternative certification programs in special education ensure high retention. Journal of the National Association for Alternative Certification, 9(2), 24–43. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Market driven alternative routes to teaching have evolved into a quality program option and not just an answer to the teacher shortage. Alternative certification is a viable means of recruiting, training, and certifying those who have a bachelor’s degree and a strong desire to enter the field of teaching. California has been a leader in the development of quality teachers. This cross-sectional study surveyed 124 California State University Alternative Route (Intern) program participants. Ten critical features located in three seminal studies framed the research conducted and provided quality features to enhance retention of teachers. It was determined that the integration of these critical attributes into the university alternative certification programs enhanced the retention rates of program graduates and served as a means to improve quality. The participants in this study have been teaching 10 years or longer, and the 96 percent retention rate is one of the highest in the country.”

Leak, J. A., & Farkas, G. (2011). Effects of teacher credentials, coursework, and certification on student achievement in math and reading in kindergarten: An ECLS-K study. Paper presented at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness Conference, Washington, DC. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “In light of the strong correlation between Kindergarten performance and later cognitive and achievement outcomes, this paper investigates the link between student achievement and the educational background characteristics of Kindergarten teachers. This study will utilize the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K), a nationally representative dataset, in order to address the following questions: (1) Does a teacher having a master’s degree or higher have a positive effect on student achievement gains in reading and math in kindergarten compared to teachers with only a bachelor’s degree?; (2) Are there effects of teacher coursework in reading, math, and child development on student achievement gains in kindergarten? If so, do impacts of coursework on reading and math scores vary by number of courses taken?; and (3) Do regular and highest certification levels for teachers have a different effect on student achievement gains than no certification or alternative certification? Does being certified as an early elementary school teacher matter for student achievement? …The findings of this study suggest that most teacher credentials, or degrees, appear to have little impact on student achievement in reading or math in Kindergarten with some small significant effects (See Tables 2 and 3). This is consistent with the findings of others (Darling-Hammond, Berry, and Thoreson, 2001; Goldhaber and Brewer 1997). However, some previous studies such as Clotfelter, Ladd, and Vigdor (2007a) actually found negative effects of high-level degrees on student achievement, which was not the case in this study. The quantity of teacher coursework had mixed effects on student achievement (See Table 4)…. Teacher certification also appears to have a mixed effect on student achievement (See Table 5).”

Ludwig, M., Bacevich, A., Wayne, A., Hale, M., & Uekawa, K. (2007). Transition to Teaching program evaluation: An interim report on the FY 2002 grantees. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education; Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development; Policy and Program Studies Service. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Congress established the Transition to Teaching (TTT) program to serve ‘high-need schools’ in ‘high-need districts’ (local education agencies or LEAs). The program is authorized under Title II, Part C, Subpart 1, Chapter B of the ‘Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965,’ as amended by the ‘No Child Left Behind Act of 2001’ (NCLB) (Pub. L. No. 107-110). The purposes of TTT are ‘(a) to recruit and retain highly qualified mid-career professionals (including highly qualified paraprofessionals), and recent graduates of an institution of higher education, as teachers in high-need schools, including recruiting teachers through alternative routes to certification; and (b) to encourage the development and expansion of alternative routes to certification under State-approved programs that enable individuals to be eligible for teacher certification within a reduced period of time, relying on the experience, expertise, and academic qualifications of an individual, or other factors in lieu of traditional course work in the field of education.’ This report presents the findings of the TTT interim evaluation-an effort to gather data to describe to Congress the progress at the three-year interim point of five-year grants awarded in FY 2002. Overall, in the first three years of the grant, the FY 2002 grantees have facilitated the hiring of an estimated 7,000 new teachers. Projects gradually ramped up in terms of the number hired, with a fairly large jump from year 1 to year 2.”

McCarty, W. L. (2013). Transition to Teaching in Nebraska: Findings from the first decade. Journal of the National Association for Alternative Certification, 8(1), 3–15. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Nebraska’s alternative teacher certification program, Transition to Teaching, is housed at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. After 10 years in operation, program evaluation was deemed necessary to assess responsiveness to the needs of teacher candidates and the school districts within the state and effectiveness in meeting those needs. Results of this study showed both strengths and challenges and provide clear direction for the future of alternative teacher certification in Nebraska.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

Center on Great Teachers and Leaders at American Institutes for Research —

From the website: “The Center on Great Teachers and Leaders (GTL Center) is dedicated to supporting state education leaders in their efforts to grow, respect, and retain great teachers and leaders for all students. The GTL Center continues the work of the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality (TQ Center) and expands its focus to provide technical assistance and online resources designed to build systems that:

  • Support the implementation of college and career
  • Ensure the equitable access of effective teachers and
  • Recruit, retain, reward, and support effective
  • Develop coherent human capital management
  • Create safe academic environments that increase student learning through positive behavior management and appropriate
  • Use data to guide professional development and improve instruction”

National Center for Teacher Effectiveness (NCTE) —

From the website: “In July 2009, NCTE commenced a six-year effort to join disparate strands of education research, and develop a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of how to measure teacher and teaching effectiveness. NCTE is developing valid measures of effective mathematics teaching to be shared with practitioners, policymakers, and researchers. The measures may help target and plan teacher training, and improve teacher observation and feedback processes.”

National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) —

From the website: “The National Council on Teacher Quality is led by this vision: every child deserves effective teachers and every teacher deserves the opportunity to become effective. For far too many children and teachers, this vision is not the reality. That’s because all too often the policies and practices of those institutions with the most authority and influence over teachers and schools—be they state governments, teacher preparation programs, school districts, or teachers unions—fall short. NCTQ focuses on the changes these institutions must make to return the teaching profession to strong health, delivering to every child the education needed to ensure a bright and successful future.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Alternative teacher licensing

  • Alternative OR non-traditional teacher licensing OR certification

  • Staffing, alternative OR non-traditional teacher licensing OR certification

  • Alternative teacher certification programs staffing

  • Alternative teacher certification route

  • Alternative teacher certification effectiveness

  • Alternative teacher licensing rural

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were include in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Region) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.