The Drive-Thru Approach to Teacher Preparation

The Drive-Thru Approach to Teacher Preparation

I read yet another article about national teacher shortages; this one was entitled Teacher Shortages Spur a Nationwide Hiring Scramble (Credentials Optional). As a result of their desperation to staff classrooms, school district officials are putting pressure on states to relax teacher licensure requirements. In some cases, this has led to the watering down of standards and expectations. Some are taking advantage of the current climate, smelling the sweet aroma of serious revenue by offering what is essentially a drive-thru teacher preparation program: The “customer” arrives at the window, attracted by the bright lights and yummy-looking food pics. Enrollment counselors take their order and send them on. Worker bees behind the scenes serve up a program that may be of questionable or untested quality and the customer is on their way in record time. They don’t know that their fries were cold or there was no straw until they are miles down the road. Programs know such a model is cheap to build and cheap to operate; it’s easy money and there are so many students rolling through the drive-thru lane that they can afford to have some unhappy customers and still turn a profit.

In the short term, school districts are happy because they have a less difficult time hiring teachers, and program completers are happy because they’ve gotten through their program at break-neck speed and haven’t had to “waste” their time on courses they perceive as useless. However, in the long term, a host of new cyclical problems are revealed, including:

  • Individuals are admitted to the programs who really shouldn’t be—they sometimes lack the academic preparation or the professional dispositions necessary for success in the classroom.
  • Program completers are often ill-prepared to enter the classroom; they require a great deal of on-site training by the school district.
  • Many new teachers quickly become disillusioned and leave the profession because they didn’t know how challenging teaching really can be. Some leave in the middle of a school year.
  • Students often suffer due to constant turnover and lack of consistency.
  • Test scores lag and fall behind state averages; impact outcomes tend to be dismal.


Not all for-profit alternative certification programs are of poor quality, but many are. While accrediting bodies have recently come under greater scrutiny for their standards and expectations, many of these programs fly under the radar and are not regionally accredited*, which is the foundational accreditation any legitimate institution of higher education should attain. Some are taking the easy path to accreditation through bodies that focus mostly on career schools** such as beauty schools, truck driving schools, at-home hypnosis training, etc. just to state on their program’s website that they are accredited. These programs use “sleight of hand” language with the lay public, saying they are “accreditation eligible” which in reality means nothing but it sounds very convincing to those who are not well versed in the lingo.  Make no mistake: The drive-thru teacher preparation model is very real, and it is having a very real impact on our P-12 schools. The question is: Are we going to accept it as the new normal, or are we finally going to draw a line in the sand and insist on academic excellence for our children?




*The regional accreditation bodies in the United States include: (1) Higher Learning Commission (HLC); (2) Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE); (3) New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC-CIHE) Commission on Institutions of Higher Education; (4) Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC); and (5) WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

**The Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) awards accreditation to degree-granting, high school, military, and post-secondary schools. A search of accredited post-secondary schools, which would apply to alternative teacher certification programs, includes the Hypnosis Motivation Institute, At-Home Professions, and the Modern Gun School, to name a few.

True Workforce-Driven Teacher Preparation

The State University of New York (SUNY) board of trustees has recently indicated its willingness to explore innovative, alternative methods of training and certifying its teachers–at least in its charter schools. According to an article in the New York Times, the primary intent of the move is to help alleviate some of the supply and demand challenges facing charter schools in that state–many schools are finding it increasingly difficult to attract, hire, and retain high-quality teachers, particularly in areas that have been identified as shortage areas for several years: math, science, special education, and English language learning. In some states, charter school teachers are paid less than those in traditional public schools because the state funding formulas are different–thereby making it even more challenging to create and maintain a stable workforce.

While there has already been some push back from traditional preparation programs, from teachers’ unions, and the like, at least this approval demonstrates an acknowledgement that (1) there is a problem with teacher supply and demand, and (2) that it will only continue to worsen if something isn’t done.

However,  the details of the proposed plan should be very carefully thought out before rolling it out–it appears as though there are some who want to craft a prep program that could actually reduce the quality of preparation–which could prove to be disastrous not only for students enrolled in those schools but for all charters nationwide that want to take the same approach in their own states. If this initiative isn’t successful, it will likely shut down any possibility of charters in other locations certifying their own teachers.

As an experienced teacher educator I have no problem with trying this approach–if done well it could be a truly workforce-driven model to be emulated across the nation. Let’s just make very sure though that it is carefully thought out ahead of time, and that we track its impact in order to make solid data-driven decisions.



Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation and academic quality assurance. She currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher licensure, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.  

Preparing, Recruiting, & Retaining High-Quality Teachers

I agree with the Ms. Harper when she stated, “In the past, teaching was considered a respected calling. Before the teaching shortage can be truly addressed, it needs to become that once again.” Truer words were never spoken–until we can somehow elevate the position of teacher/educator to one of respect and value in this country, we will continue in this downward spiral of teacher shortages, low test scores, higher dropout rates, and high school graduates who are not prepared for the workforce.

While the article focused primarily on the challenges of rural school districts, those in urban settings also experience a very difficult time in recruiting, hiring, and retaining high-quality educators over time. In many instances, educators feel undervalued, underpaid, underappreciated, and disrespected. They went to college with great intentions–to make a real difference in the life of a child–only to discover today’s reality of the teaching profession. This certainly may explain why nearly 50% of all teachers leave the profession within 5 years of starting their career.

There is no single answer to solving this problem–if there was, someone would have figured out a way to address it by now. No, solving a challenge like this requires a comprehensive, cohesive approach. It starts by having a conversation with all stakeholders, and it moves forward by putting preconceived notions aside. Our society is changing, and we must look at ways in which the teaching profession can change as well, starting with how teachers are prepared.

Training teachers and school leaders under the same, tired models just isn’t working–in many instances preparation programs are designed by faculty members who either (1) haven’t been in a classroom for 20 years, or (2) perhaps have never set foot inside a classroom. It’s no wonder why graduates feel a sense of shell shock when they enter the classroom wide-eyed and full of wonder only to find out the classroom management techniques they learned in college worked great in 1985 but just aren’t appropriate for today’s classrooms.

We need leadership so we can turn things around and right the ship with regard to teacher preparation, teacher supply and demand, and the respect of educators as highly-regarded contributors to the health of our society. I call on Secretary of Education DeVos to take on this important challenge.


Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation and academic quality assurance. She currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher licensure, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.  


Source: Rural school districts face special challenges in recruiting teachers | Education Dive