A+ Texas Teachers
The New York Times recently reported on a Texas man named Jeff Arrington who ended a six-year career in law enforcement to become a teacher in Texas. Mr. Arrington is currently working as a classroom instructor while finishing his teaching certificate. What’s newsworthy about his transition to a teaching career is the fact that he’s enrolled in an online alternative certification program offered by a for-profit organization. This nontraditional path to a teaching career is becoming more common in Texas and is especially appealing to people like Jeff Arrington who are looking to make a career change.
The Texas Education Agency estimates that about 40 percent of all new Texas teachers are certified through alternative programs. There are more than 110 alternative certification programs (or ACPs) in Texas; the two largest are A+ Texas Teachers and iteachTexas (both are for-profit programs). Since 2007, these two companies have produced more teachers than any other alternative or traditional certification program in the state.
A+ Texas Teachers was established in 2002 by teacher Kathy Schreiber-Clark and business manager Vernon Reaser. Current requirements for entry to its certification program include a four-year bachelor’s degree in any major with a 2.5 GPA. College seniors can enroll in the same semester that they plan to graduate. Two types of training are offered: blended and full online. Blended training includes both online and face-to-face instruction, while full online is based solely on self-paced coursework accessed over the Internet. Blended training provides the opportunity to interact with instructors and network with peers, while full online training offers maximum flexibility for working professionals.
Although A+ Texas Teachers bases its advertising on its streamlined certification process, it can take up to two years to complete an ACP. The fee at A+ Texas Teachers is about $4,000. (The program fees do not include Texas state fees that are associated with professional testing and background checks.) A small down payment is required upfront (currently $295) with the remaining balance due in payments spread out over the first year of teaching. According to company advertising, payment on the balance is not due until a teacher is hired and there are no interest charges.
Texas isn’t the only state that allows alternative certification programs, but the state has been at the forefront of the for-profit movement. Many people feel that there wasn’t enough regulation when Texas first began to allow alternative programs in the 1980s. The state is now more rigorous about approving and auditing certification programs. However, some educators still take a negative view of for-profit programs. Nell Ingram, director of a nonprofit ACP run by the Dallas Independent School District, feels that for-profits will accept anyone who’s willing to pay their fee regardless of the demand for teachers in a given subject area.
Teachers who have completed for-profit ACPs receive mixed reviews from Texas principals. Some find that classroom performance for both ACP and traditional certified teachers is about the same, while others say that ACP teachers are less prepared for their role. The Texas legislature recently tried to address the possible lack of classroom training supplied by ACPs with a bill that would require teaching candidates to spend at least 15 hours providing classroom instruction before being certified. Vernon Reaser, president of A+ Texas Teachers, testified against the bill at a legislative hearing. Reaser said the bill would place an unnecessary burden on school districts without guaranteeing that teachers in ACPs would be better prepared for the classroom. According to the New York Times, the bill eventually passed with some modifications that Reaser approved of.