Alternative Education for Teachers Gaining Ground [NY Times]

“We’re at a huge frontier when it comes to understanding learning,” she said. “Divorcing teacher preparation from this research would suggest to me that you would prepare doctors with hands-on tools without their benefiting from medical research.”

La Toya C. K. Caton, 26, of Baldwin, N.Y., decided to become a teacher after she was laid off as a systems analyst. Last spring, she applied to Teach for America but withdrew at the last minute, enrolling at Teachers College instead. “During that time I was a substitute teacher in middle school and high school, and I felt that more training was necessary,” said Ms. Caton, who will complete her master’s in May.

“Teachers College really provides you with an amazing opportunity to learn from supportive teachers,” said Ms. Caton, now a student-teacher at Public School 180, the Hugo Newman School, in Harlem. “They really act as mentors. They’ve given me the space to become the teacher I want to be.”

Dr. Steiner said that the alternative groups would have to shape their own certification programs subject to Regents approval. While those programs would involve some theoretical classroom learning, he said, they would be “given some relief from the traditional constraints of course credits and hours.”

“We believe there are a few institutions that have earned their right to the table,” he said, although he declined to identify them. “They would be held to exactly the same performance assessment that the traditional schools of education would be held to.”

A spokeswoman for Teach for America, which has 800 new teachers enlisted in its two-year program in 300 schools in New York City, said the group would consider submitting a plan for a certification program.

Some education schools have already seen a drop in their application numbers as a result of the allure of alternative programs, though the effect has been blunted by the recession, which has helped fill up graduate schools in general. In a weak economy, alternative programs are especially attractive because participants can earn a regular starting salary from the outset while also receiving a discount on tuition for a master’s degree.

In contrast, annual tuition for a master’s degree program at a public university like City College of New York costs $7,360, while tuition at a prestigious private institution like Teachers College runs $26,040 for a full course load. (For a student living in a dormitory, Teachers College puts the total cost for nine months of study, including tuition, books, fees, room, board and other expenses, at $63,196.)

In Brooklyn, Dan Cosgrove, 24, is now in his second year with Teach for America, teaching fourth grade at Leadership Prep Bedford-Stuyvesant Charter School. He joined Teach for America after graduating from Trinity College, unsure which career path to follow but eager to right the social inequalities he had studied as a sociology major.

Despite a grueling schedule (teaching all week and pursuing a master’s degree on weekends and in the summer), Mr. Cosgrove is sold on teaching. At Leadership Prep, classrooms have co-teachers, which has helped him develop classroom-management skills.

“It’s incredibly challenging and difficult, but it’s also extremely rewarding,” he said. “I think the best way to learn is by watching people here and being in all kinds of situations.”

[via Mark Lewis]

Alternative certification isn't just an issue in Minnesota...

The tension between alternative certification programs and traditional schools of education is tenable, but they boil down to philosophical differences. It's interesting that schools of education are appealing to philosophy rather than research.