How Can We Find Enough Quality Individuals To Help Students Make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)? The Third Dimension!

Jul 27, 2011 by

Vicky S. Dill, Ph.D. & Delia Stafford-Johnson

We read that in the next several years, in order to avoid losing billions in federal aid, schools like Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) will need to find and credential as many as 15,000 teachers. We also read that many of the best teachers leave teaching because of modest salaries and poor working conditions. We read of the many strategies that many fine school districts like LAUSD are trying to find, credential, mentor, and retain the teachers they need. It is a veritable menu of creativity. Anyone who thinks there’s a simple one-shot answer is delusional.

One focus of the mid-career programs that often gets lost in the shuffle, however, is the interpersonal dynamic of mature individuals who enter teaching knowingly oblivious to the context and the salary to “try to make a difference.” Feistritzer and others have documented the statistically significant difference on this note between traditional and alternative or mid-career entrants to the profession. Mid-career individuals committed to being able to build relationships with youth at risk are often willing, like emissaries, to brave less favorable conditions to meet the needs of children who desperately need a fresh breath of air in their instructional program, their role models, and their repertoire of capabilities.

Deregulation in the last decade and a half of the teacher certification process has left the process and much of the research difficult, if not impossible, to cipher. Exactly who is an alternative teacher certification candidate and which route they took is often blurred by the merging of routes or the conveying of “deficiency plans” as a type of alternative. There is no short-cut to a quality teacher, however. There are three dimensions to every candidate: 1) ability to build relationships with children and youth; 2) content knowledge; and 3) ability to deliver instruction using best practices. The journals are full of how to build content knowledge and best practice. What about that relationship angle?

Children besieged with tests and their attendant onslaught of benchmark assessments  “no less than every six weeks these benchmarks are repeated” need, more than ever, teachers who can make the leap of faith from rote teaching to relationships, from worksheets to project-based education. At the very moment school districts need more teachers than ever, they also need better teachers: teachers who can embed technology, teachers who can motivate alienated youth, teachers who can turn yet another assessment into an advent of hope. Rare individuals, such a profile requires that whole populations of individuals who might consider teaching have the career offered to them as expeditiously as possible.

What is the difference between high standards and a barrier? It’s a matter of perspective. In traditional teacher education, individuals navigate a series of courses, increasingly complex series of field experiences, a culminating student teaching or internship experience, and then get certified and start looking for a job. It’s a theory-to-practice model that has largely failed to produce adequate numbers of quality teachers for the nation’s schools. Yet alterations in this sequence are often automatically suspect; “alternatives” are assumed to be lower in quality and ‘easier’ because they are more user-friendly.

Does a traditional program reflect high standards? Let’s say you are an engineer and you want to be a teacher. One thing you know well is engineering. You’ve heard that the local high school is planning to start a magnet program for engineers, especially focusing on women in engineering. You’ve been let go from a, so you think, “Maybe it’s a good time in my life for me to give back something to the school system that raised me and helped me become a capable engineer. I’ll be a teacher in that magnet program.”

You have a husband and three children; two are in college and one is in middle school. All the family’s income is needed to keep the two in college and the middle school kid needs constant surveillance. You go to the local traditional college; you get a “deficiency plan” to add teacher certification to your master’s degree in Engineering. What it says is that you have to study 18 hours of pedagogy, participate in two settings of increasingly complex early field experiences in microteaching in local schools, and you must student teach. The 12 hours of course work is tuition plus books; it takes a full year. The student teaching requires you pay the college 6 hours of tuition payments, you buy new clothes for teaching, you give up your job, health insurance, and retirement for half a year and you student teach. You decide not to become a teacher after all. One person’s high standards are another person’s barrier.

What is the best way to obtain effective teachers for all students? Why is this an emergency?

One thing we’ve learned: the teacher matters! We shouldn’t be surprised. Why would we? We knew this all along; we remember the teacher who turned our lives around or who said something we still remember; we remember the one who “turned us on” to literature, or math, or physics. Yet the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment Method for measuring the effects of the total system on students concretizes this intuition. In this ground-breaking study, the progress of each individual student was measured in its real-world complexity. The Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System is a statistical method of determining the effectiveness of school system, schools and teachers in sustaining academic growth for student populations ( ). What did the sophisticated study find?

Race, socioeconomic factors and academic gains for grades 3-8 were found to be virtually unrelated to the racial composition of the schools, the percentage of students on free and reduced lunch, or the mean achievement of the students in the school

Receiving schools do not have a good handle on where students are when they leave the last grade; for students leaving 8th grade and entering 9th grade, this means they often have repetition classes, knowledge and teaching gaps, and must endure a year of catching up that does not fully negate the academic loss they experiences the first year after the change

Of all the contextual variables that have been studied to date, the single largest factor affecting academic growth of populations of students is differences in effectiveness of individual classroom teachers. When considered simultaneously, the magnitude of these differences dwarf the other factors.

Residual effects of earlier teachers were measurable on subsequent academic achievement. The effects of 3rd grade teachers on 5th grade math scores were still measurable regardless of the effectiveness of the 4th and 5th grade teachers. In addition, students of the most effective teachers had excellent gains regardless of their prior achievement levels, while students in the least effective teachers’ classrooms across the entire prior achievement spectrum did not make appropriate levels of gain. As the level of teacher effectiveness increased, students of lower achievement were the first to benefit and only teachers of the highest effectiveness generally were effective with all students ( <>).

Value-added assessment represents an assemblage of technologies from many different academic areas. Using the “Sanders” model approved by in the Education Improvement Act, the methodology determined the effectiveness of school systems, schools and teachers in producing academic growth in students, thereby directly linking student academic growth to education evaluation.

We know it’s the teacher. Now we have the evidence that confirms it in data. We need to get the best teachers to the students as soon as possible so they can make adequate yearly progress (AYP). We need to find the ones who care and will stay. This means, if necessary, circumventing the traditional so-called “high standards” (vis-a -vis “traditional”) model to embrace an alternative. What does the research show about these so-called “alternative certification models”?

A recent study at the Texas A&M International University by Dr. Claudio Salinas found that approximately 200 teachers, (90% of whom were Hispanic) in the alternative teacher certification program from 1997-2000 were retained over the three-year period at a rate of over 90% ( This contrasts with a nationally-accepted retention rate among traditional graduates of approximately 30% over five years.

So what should we conclude from the on-going ying and yang as to whether alternatively certified teachers or traditionally certified teachers best serve America’s neediest children? Or better yet, which educators would be willing to provide children with less than qualified teachers for children in America especially children in poverty? Surely any source of well-chosen, thoroughly trained, and carefully mentored teachers will find their place in the lives of at risk students, not only helping them make AYP, but, by motivating, nurturing, inspiring, and caring, they are helping them stay in school and go to college — giving them a shot at the American dream.

Delia Stafford Johnson and Dr. Vicky Schreiber Dill are President and CEO, respectively, of The National Center for Alternative Teacher Certification Information (NCATCI) at The Haberman Educational Foundation. Dr. Dill is an administrative Program Director at Round Rock ISD (TX). NCATCI and The Haberman Educational Foundation comprise a not-for-profit foundation providing extensive training to school districts nationwide in teacher and principal interview selection and the development of alternative programs. For further information, see


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