Alternative licensure pathways—which equip prospective new educators for the classroom in ways other than traditional, university-based teacher preparation programs—aim to expand and diversify the ranks of K–12 teachers. These once unconventional programs, better known as alternative certification (“alt cert”) programs, have previously been shown to increase diversity in the field and usher more males into teaching, but research is limited on their relationship to teacher pay.
A recent descriptive study published in AERA Open looks at data from Texas to investigate further. It’s a narrow study—it looks only at correlations between the change in alternative certification policy and both the proportion of new entrants into the field and potential reductions in elementary teachers’ starting salaries—but it nonetheless adds to our understanding of these now-popular programs.
In 2001, the Lone Star State enacted guidance provided by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. It essentially allowed alt cert—which already existed but was not widespread at the time—to reduce its program length, including no longer mandating a student teaching experience. In this study, analysts look at the year preceding the policy change and fourteen years afterwards in about 1,200 districts.
They use a regression model that examines changes at the district level from one year to the next over time, while controlling for district-level differences, such as the percentage of new teachers who are novices, number of students, per-pupil expenditures, teacher turnover rates, racial composition of teachers and students, percentage of special education students and low-income students, and so on. They also look at differences between the highest and lowest quartiles of rates at which districts were hiring alt cert teachers, with “high alt” districts defined as hiring 50 percent or more of alternatively certified elementary-level teachers each year and “low alt” districts as hiring less than 20 percent of them.
The analysis shows that the average district hired about twenty novice teachers each year, and the average district hired 32 percent of its novices from an alt cert program. Within five years of the policy change, more than half of the state’s new teachers were alternatively licensed. Districts hiring the most alt cert teachers were more diverse and larger and they generally experienced more turnover.
The average district pay for new elementary teachers declined between 2 and 13 percent within fifteen years of the policy change. But the number of alt cert teachers in a district impacted salary trajectories. In the year prior to the policy, the average district offered higher pay, which fell over time. But districts that hired few alt cert teachers initially offered lower wages and increased pay over time; those that hired a lot of them offered higher wages initially but decreased their pay as more and more alt cert teachers were hired. For example, in 2005, high-alt districts paid new teachers 9 percent less than in 2000, while low-alt districts paid them 4 percent less.
The ultimate takeaway may be a lesson in economics 101. That is, an increased supply of a good or service will generally result in a lower cost to purchase that good or service. But the analysis also uses a tight definition of pay, excluding additional benefits such as health insurance and retirement options, which can greatly enhance overall teacher compensation. Nor is there any discussion of teacher effectiveness/quality or of the specific types of teachers hired via alternative certification, which could influence total pay and benefits. Potential pay differences among alt cert programs are also obscured, as online, community college, district-run, or university-based programs are all analyzed together (mostly because of how they are coded). And finally, the Great Recession, which hit districts’ bottom lines hard and reduced both teacher employment and pay with equal force, cannot be ruled out as a factor limiting teacher pay in that part of the study period.
So, all in all, this blunt look at alt cert and teacher compensation could use additional investigation—especially because one is not well understood by the field and the other not well understood by the public.
SOURCE: Sarah Guthery and Lauren Bailes, “Unintended Consequences of Expanding Teacher Preparation Pathways: Does Alternative Licensure Attenuate New Teacher Pay?” American Education Research Association (March 2023).