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Teacher training: what's the best way?

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"The vast majority of both traditional teacher-education programs and alternative certification programs are not meeting the needs of kids," says Barnett Berry, president of the Center for Teaching Quality in Hillsborough, N.C. The debate between the two is "a false dichotomy," he argues, since there is often far more variation in quality and design within the two camps than between them.

In particular, Mr. Berry notes, most programs right now are doing a poor job of preparing teachers for schools in high-poverty neighborhoods. "The pace of life in those schools is such that it's not all that amenable to learning on the job," he says. "It's too intense."

Not everyone agrees with that assessment, and some people point to studies showing that training makes little difference in teacher effectiveness.

"The variable that makes the most difference is the recruitment and selection on the front end," says Emily Feistritzer, president of the National Center for Alternative Certification in Washington. She's a proponent of easing the entry to the classroom, especially for well-qualified or older candidates who may be less inclined to return to school for a traditional teaching degree.

Alternative routes to teaching, which number more than 100, share certain

characteristics: They generally speed up the process of entering the profession, and usually, participants take at least some of the course work concurrently with the first year of teaching.

But the programs range from highly selective ones with finely honed training segments and good on-the-ground support to programs that many consider "degree mills" and may have no real supervised training.

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