Texas’ largest teacher prep company is on probation, board decides

Texas’ largest teacher preparation program will have just three months to prove that it’s corrected a litany of problems that tripped up many aspiring educators.

But just before the State Board of Educator Certification approved a probation agreement with Texas Teachers of Tomorrow, officials learned of issues that impacted would-be teachers even after increased scrutiny over the company.

The board on Friday approved an agreement that gives the company until Oct. 21 to demonstrate it corrected long-standing problems – such as not always ensuring educator candidates were matched with qualified teacher mentors – according to a copy of the order, which was provided to The Dallas Morning News.

The state board rejected a previous proposal in April, demanding more stringent accountability for the program that enrolled nearly 70,000 aspiring educators in 2021.

Now, Texas Teachers of Tomorrow will be required to publicize its probationary status on its website and pay for a monitor to oversee improvement.

Too big to fail? Texas’ largest teacher prep program riddled with problems, state finds

Ignacio “Nacho” Giraldo, who served as interim CEO, said he is confident officials will be able to show their improvements go beyond basic compliance.

“We’ve been working very diligently since we found out about the audit,” Giraldo said. He believes the company and state officials are “on the same boat. We’re rowing in the same direction. We all want great teachers and classrooms.”

A state audit found substantial issues with Texas Teachers of Tomorrow operations in 2021, including problems with misleading marketing, not sufficiently matching candidates with mentors and a mostly online curriculum that couldn’t be proven to be based on research.

The company was also the subject of an excessive number of complaints from teacher candidates, some of whom left the profession in frustration after receiving poor advice from Texas Teachers of Tomorrow that led to certification delays or even financial troubles.

The company now has new leadership, including recently hired CEO Trent Beekman. Other majors appointments will include a chief financial officer, a leader over people and culture and a point-person on compliance.

Texas Education Agency officials initially thought about shutting down the program because of the issues identified. But that would’ve triggered a new wave of problems in Texas: The for-profit company enrolls more than all other teacher prep companies in the state combined.

Roughly 6,000 completed the program last year and about 5,500 gained full teaching certification, according to self-reported data.

Texas – like the rest of the nation – is grappling with a teacher shortage.

Texas’ ‘wild west’ teacher prep landscape could make teacher shortage worse

State leaders appear ready to work with Texas Teachers of Tomorrow to move forward.

Still, educator certification board members on Friday expressed concerns that complaints from teacher candidates continue to come in, despite the added scrutiny in recent months.

Eighteen Texas Teachers of Tomorrow customers weren’t able to earn teaching certifications because they completed their “internship year” entirely online last school year, officials said.

Teacher candidates are not allowed to do virtual internships or virtual observations. The Texas Education Agency agency is currently investigating those cases.

“That was a confusion on our part and our interns’ part,” Giraldo said, emphasizing that the company works with thousands of teachers. The company is personally working with the impacted candidates, he said.

The existence of those cases was not able to factor into the board’s Friday decision, but it could come up again during future checks on the company.

Giraldo added that overall, the complaints received recently are within the “normal course of business.” Texas Teachers of Tomorrow staff respond to customer service issues within 24 hours now, he said. It was criticized previously for not being responsive.

The company must now post by Saturday a notice on its website saying it is working with regulators to “address areas of noncompliance with state requirements for educator preparation programs.” Should the company eventually prove it is in compliance, the word could be removed.

Giraldo acknowledged it is “not ideal” to have such a message on the webpage.

“We’ve got to accept it and move on,” he said.

Overseeing the company as a monitor will be Calvin Stocker, who serves on the Texas Alternative Certification Association board. Texas Teachers of Tomorrow will have to pay the costs associated with Stocker’s oversight, though it’s unclear what the price tag will be.

“We’re going to be an open book,” Giraldo said.

Until problems are resolved, the state will list the company’s 2021-2022 status as “Accredited—Probation.”

Texas has more than 120 teacher prep programs. State officials typically review about 25 annually, meaning each program is reexamined about every five years. The spread-out cycle can allow significant issues to slip through the cracks.

Beekman said the company should be self-auditing more frequently.

“As a company that has a mission to do well in society, we should take that upon ourselves, really recognizing where we can get better,” he said. “That’s what we owe the future teachers and the students.”

The company operates alternative certification programs in several other states, including Florida.

Dallas Morning News reporter Emily Donaldson contributed to this article.

The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, Garrett and Cecilia Boone, The Meadows Foundation, The Murrell Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University, Todd A. Williams Family Foundation and the University of Texas at Dallas. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.

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