In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Alternative Certification Programs for Educators

  • Introduction
  • History
  • Program Characteristics
  • Levels
  • Comparison of ATC and Traditional Programs
  • ATC Candidates’ Characteristics
  • Implications for School Leadership
  • International Perspectives

Education Alternative Certification Programs for Educators
Mary Barbara Trube, Aki Tanaka
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0207


Student achievement and school quality are dependent on teacher quality. Preparation of students for productive lives as contributing members of a global society depends on teacher quality, and teacher quality depends, to a great extent, on the effectiveness of teacher preparation programs leading to certification or licensure to teach. Alternative teacher certification (ATC) is a generic term for certification or licensure pathways for prospective teachers who pursue routes other than through traditional teacher preparation programs. These diverse pathways range from certification by examination to in-depth professional preparation programs. Individuals who follow ATC paths are most often employed as teachers as they earn their certificates or licenses within an abbreviated time frame. Currently, all states in the United States and the District of Columbia approve some form of ATC, and some states have required the development and implementation of such programs. A great variety of alternative routes to teacher certification and licensure are offered by states, school districts, universities, organizations, for-profit groups, or combinations of these. Initially, ATC was identified as a proactive “quick fix” for staffing schools in districts experiencing teacher shortages during the 1980s. In the 1990s, ATC was also seen as a way to fill the demand for highly qualified teachers. More recently, ATC programs have been designed to attract diverse recruits to work in urban and rural hard-to-staff schools. Today, some districts use ATC to attract mid-career individuals with professional experience in such fields as mathematics, science, and technology, or those who are fluent in one or more languages. Moreover, many districts seek mature individuals with a commitment to work in schools—rural or urban—with high concentrations of ethnic or racial minorities, English-language learners, students with disabilities, or students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch programs. Some leaders and policymakers view ATC as more responsive to local needs than college or university programs. Several models of ATC have matured into effective means of certifying or licensing individuals who aspire to teach prekindergarten to grade twelve (P–12) students. However, ATC remains a controversial topic, with proponents pointing to reduction in teacher shortages and diversifying the teaching force and opponents arguing that professionalism and student learning are adversely impacted. This article identifies publications that address and define ATC in general, present its history in the United States, provide examples of representative models, summarize findings and results from research, and provide international perspectives of ATC.

General Overviews

This article uses the term “ATC” to refer to the exploration of alternative teacher certification (ATC), alternative teacher licensure (ATL), and alternative licensed teachers (ALT), unless referred to differently in the references cited. Reports devoted to ATC from the US Department of Education, such as Innovations in Education: Alternative Routes to Teacher Certification and Highly Qualified Teachers Enrolled in Programs Providing Alternative Routes to Teacher Certification or Licensure, describe various approaches to ATC by public school systems in the United States. Mitigating Teacher Shortages: Alternative Teacher Certification, an overview by Woods for the Education Commission of the States, summarizes the research on teacher shortages and the strategies that states are following to recruit and retain more teachers.

  • US Department of Education, Office of Innovation and Improvement. 2004. Innovations in education: Alternative routes to teacher certification. November. Washington, DC: US Department of Education.

    This report offers examples of alternative pathways to teaching. The 2004 US Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, highlights the National Center for Alternative Certification. The report focuses on No Child Left Behind requirements. Case studies from California, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, New York, and Texas present promising programs that practice wide recruitment, careful selection of candidates, flexible program design, extensive support, and reflective practice.

  • US Department of Education, Policy and Program Studies Service, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development. 2015. Highly qualified teachers enrolled in programs providing alternative routes to teacher certification or licensure. June. Washington, DC: US Department of Education.

    This Department of Education executive summary presents an investigation of alternative routes to teacher certification or licensure. Federal requirements regarding highly qualified teachers (HQTs) and analyses of ATC data for programs in forty-eight states and the District of Columbia (two states and two jurisdictions did not submit these data) are given, including teachers in special education, Title III, and high-poverty and rural districts.

  • Woods, J. R. 2016. Mitigating teacher shortages: Alternative teacher certification. May. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States.

    This report provides highlights from state task force findings on recruitment and retention of teachers, teacher quality, ATC program types, and characteristics, such as costs, delivery of content, and residencies.

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