Can mid-career teacher programs help cover the shortage?

(NewsNation) — For 25 years, David Adler spent his life working in food services. But after coaching his daughter’s soccer team and teaching part-time at his local synagogue, he started to realize that he had a passion for education.

“I was like, I don’t know, I’m 46 years old. Can a 46-year-old man make a career change into elementary school?” he said.

As a resident of Ann Arbor, Michigan, he was eligible for the University of Michigan’s Michigan Alternate Route to Certification (M-ARC) program, which allows people who have bachelor’s degrees to obtain an initial certification to teach after just four months of courses and some weeks of required classroom experience.

Adler applied, was accepted and he completed the program. He started teaching at a local school in Ann Arbor this fall.

“I’m still nervous, but I’m very excited,” he said of his new job, which began the week of the interview. “I’m fortunate to have a real strong team here.”

He is one of around 40 people who graduated from the first cohort of the initial certification program at M-ARC. It had previously been working with Teach For America — a program that selects and trains recent college graduates — since 2010, but recently began its mid-career programs for adults of all ages.

After the first round of coursework and classroom training is complete, graduates from the program receive an initial certification that allows them to teach in Michigan’s schools. But their education doesn’t end there.

“They hold that teaching certificate, that interim teaching certificate, while they’re teaching for three years while we continue to work with them in their classroom environment,” said Jean Mrachko, M-ARC’s associate director. “So they’ll continue to get that instructional coaching from our field instructors throughout those three years and they will continue to do course work on teaching and pedagogy throughout those three years as well as building a professional portfolio.”

At the conclusion of the three years, teachers will be eligible for Michigan’s standard certificate, which can be continually renewed. This unique arrangement also allows M-ARC participants to pay a $750 fee upon acceptance into the program and then around $250 per month during the rest of the program after they begin teaching. This means the overall cost of the program is around $9,000.

alternative certification vs traditional certification

M-ARC’s mid-career program is relatively new, meaning it’s difficult to ascertain the outcomes of its programs.

Because alternative certification programs generally prepare teachers much more quickly than a traditional, college-based teaching program, some critics worry that they provide inadequate training.

“Are they looking to make it easier and quicker to become a teacher?” Thomas Morgan, a spokesperson for the Michigan Education Association, asked Chalkbeat Detroit about M-ARC. “If that’s the case, it’s not rigorous enough. … We believe there needs to be a hill to climb to become a teacher.”

Alternative certification programs vary widely across the country, making it difficult to generalize their impact. Still, research offers some insight.

Tara Kini, the Learning Policy Institute’s director of state policy, noted that alternatively certified teachers can be just as effective as traditionally certified teachers after a few years in the classroom, but that depends on staying in the profession.

“… Many of them leave before they get there, the turnover rates for alternatively certified teachers are much higher,” she said. “We did a study a couple of years ago…and teachers who entered the profession through those alternative certification pathways were 25% more likely to leave their schools and leave the profession overall than those who entered through traditional pathways.”

Hans Bos, a senior fellow at the American Institutes for Research who specializes in education research, noted that mid-career teachers often have competing job prospects because they already have training to do other jobs.

“As the economy picks up and the labor market starts to get tighter, you know these [alternative certification] programs became less popular,” he said.

Still, these programs do provide training for a substantial number of teachers, which could help address teaching shortages. Kini said that as many as a quarter of teachers in the 2011-2012 school year, the most recent data released from the Department of Education, entered teaching through alternative pathways.

Back in Ann Arbor, of the 40 who completed their coursework and field experiences, 32 are currently teaching with seven deferring for various reasons. Meanwhile, an additional six are teaching after having joined from Teach for America.

Adler is grateful to have had the opportunity to change careers and the continued support M-ARC will provide.

“I wouldn’t be here without the M-ARC program,” he said. “I know it’s going to be difficult for the first year, but they’re there for me…they’re still supporting us, which is nice.”

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