Monday, January 08, 2007

When the Alternative Becomes the Norm

Lawrence Baines explores alternative certification programs in English in the December issue of Phi Delta Kappan . He describes the explosive growth of "NUCPs" (Non-University Certification Programs) and of "pared-down degrees delivered over the Internet" by for-profit entities. According to Baines, one in five new teachers in California now enters the profession through NUCPs. In Texas and New Jersey, it's one in four. One example of an NUCP is the LosAngeles Unified School District which, according to Baines, "requires next to nothing. That is, prospective teachers in the Los Angeles program can move from applicant status to full-time, salaried teacher without bothering to gain experience in an actual classroom, and the only courses required by the LAUSD are delivered in-house in brief seminars or online . . ." Baines also points out that of the five largest secondary English programs in the U.S. in 2004, only one was a traditional university-based program.

Online programs, some offered by for-profit institutions such as the University of Phoenix and some by traditional universities, are even larger. "For example," writes Baines, "the second largest producer of English teachers in Texas (behind Texas NUCPs) is the program at the University of North Texas. North Texas offers a traditional on-campus, field-based undergraduate degree in education but it also offers a one-year, accelerated, graduate program over the Internet."

My experience with understanding the alternative program landscape has been that just about anything can be called an "alternative certification program," so it's difficult to make blanket judgements, but the numbers Baines includes in his piece suggest that unaccredited, unaccountable, quick and easy routes to becoming an English teacher may be on the way to becoming the norm. The article is "Deconstructing Teacher Certification." Unfortunately, you need to be a Phi Delta Kappan subscriber to access it at the PDK website, although it's probably available in full-text databases through your university's library.

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