DENTON — One afternoon in mid-November, Jeff Arrington scattered 80 paper gingerbread men labeled with numbers across the floor of his high school disaster-response class.
The numbers corresponded with the severity of injuries ranging from burns to hysterical blindness. His students had to categorize the “men” based on the level of medical attention each required. Mr. Arrington, in the middle of his third month of teaching at the Advanced Technology Complex in the Denton Independent School District, has a background well suited to the subject. He was a police officer for six years — he turned in his badge on Sept. 12 and began teaching the next day.
He is earning his teaching certificate through an online, for-profit alternative certification program, a nontraditional route to teaching that is becoming more common in Texas. Such programs, which can offer certification in three months to two years, are booming despite little more than anecdotal evidence of their success. They draw candidates like Mr. Arrington who bring valuable life experience, but there are concerns about how they will perform as teachers, especially since they are more likely to end up in poor districts teaching students in challenging situations.
More than 110 alternative certification programs — including iteachTexas, which Mr. Arrington is completing, and nonprofits like Teach for America — produce 40 percent of all new teachers in Texas, according to an analysis of Texas Education Agency data by Ed Fuller, a Penn State University education professor and former University of Texas researcher.