Teachers entering the classroom through fast-track programs rather than traditional routes are skyrocketing in Louisiana and nationally.

“The whole thing is evolving,” George Noell, a top official of the state Department of Education, said of the changes in teacher training programs.

The trends show that:

• The number of Louisiana teachers who finished nontraditional preparation programs rose 74 percent between 2006 and 2010, according to state figures.

• Those who took a route other than the time-honored journey through a college of education made up 53 percent of finishers in 2009-10.

• One in three teachers hired in the U.S. today entered the profession through a nontraditional path, according to a new study by the National Center for Education Information in Washington, D.C.

About 500,000 of the nation’s 3.3 million teachers in 2010 joined the classroom through novel methods, the report says.

The new way of preparing teachers is called alternative certification.

It is geared for those who already have an undergraduate degree and want to teach.

The training, which is done primarily by universities, as well as independent groups, allows some teacher candidates to earn their certificate in 12 to 18 months.

Part of the appeal comes from those with a zeal to get in the classroom, said Suzanne Harris, executive director of the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana.

“If you are passionate about it and are given the correct skills for whatever route you come, you can be very effective in the classroom,” Harris said.

Others see it as a way to get a solid job.

“More individuals are being downsized from their jobs,” said Jeanne Burns, associate commissioner for teacher and leadership initiatives for the state Board of Regents.

“They are looking for alternative pathways for a career,” Burns said.

The change is a huge shift from the decades-old practice of preparing teachers.

High school graduates typically majored in education, earned their bachelor’s degrees and later their teaching certificates.

In 1970-71, education bachelor’s degrees accounted for 21 percent of all the bachelor’s degrees awarded, the report says.

By 2007-08, those degrees made up only 7 percent of the total.

How common are alternate teacher training programs?

More than half of the new teachers in Texas are trained in alternative-route programs, according to the report.

Texas has 10 percent of the teachers in the nation.

Alternative certification programs allow college graduates with degrees in math, English and other subjects to enter the classroom without taking the traditional steps.

University options include a streamlined certification path that combines intensive coursework and fulltime teaching.

Others can earn a master’s degree as well as their teacher certification.

Some alternative certification programs are run by private groups like the Louisiana Resource Center for Educators, which says it has trained more than 1,000 doctors, lawyers and architects for the classroom since 2003.

In some cases, teacher candidates can zip through skills tests, summer institutes and 180 hours of professional development and become a certified teacher in 12 to 18 months.

Louisiana also has more Teach for America teachers per capita than any state in the nation.

TFA relies in part on five weeks of intense training to help train high-achieving college graduates.

But Joyce Haynes, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said alternative certification is “so watered down” that it can lead to problems, including difficulties managing classrooms and spotting student handicaps.

Teachers with degrees in a different field can enter the classroom and “find a whole new setting” for which they are unprepared, Haynes said.

The national report said research shows there is no significant difference in achievement between students taught by traditional and nontraditional teacher preparation graduates.

Last year, a study said a nonprofit group called The New Teacher Project — another independent preparation program — was outpacing LSU and other schools in preparing educators for the classroom.

Noell said the new training methods have also trimmed the number of uncertified teachers in Louisiana, and addressed the overall teaching shortage as well.

“I don’t have a good number on the shortage, but we have closed the gap everywhere,” Noell said.