The Director of Teach for America’s Appalachian Region says the program could help West Virginia fill some of the more than 600 classrooms that do not have certified teachers in them each year.
Will Nash says the program, which is described as a type of ‘domestic Peace Corps,’ is already in place in three dozen other states.
“We partner with districts to channel some of the very best and brightest college grads and young professionals into teaching when they might have otherwise gone into something else,” Nash said.
It’s designed to be an alternative to the traditional teacher certification program, the kind of option recommended in the Governor’s Education Efficiency Audit which is serving as a reference for those making education reform proposals during this year’s Regular Legislative Session.
However, leaders of two unions for teachers in West Virginia, the West Virginia Education Association and the West Virginia American Federation of Teachers, have said they oppose such “alternative certification” programs.
They say options like Teach for America would lower standards and hurt teacher quality.
To dispute those claims, Nash cites a number of independent studies focused on the people who are part of Teach for America. “You see that our teachers do just as well as, if not better than, traditionally certified teachers,” he said.
“Teach for America has studied what our most successful teachers do and then we’ve isolated the skills and the knowledge and the mindsets that we want people coming to the profession with so that we can start ahead of the curve.”
Those who sign up for Teach for America commit to at least two years of teaching in rural areas to help address teacher shortages.
“For the majority of them, that commitment becomes a lifelong commitment,” Nash said. “Many of them stay in education and almost all of them remain committed to education, education reform and providing kids in low income areas with the type of education they deserve.”
Nash says, across the country, more than 10,000 teachers have been trained and are teaching as part of the program.
If the Legislature signs off on the program’s implementation in the Mountain State, Nash says the goal would be to start next year with 25 Teach for America teachers in a handful of counties, most likely those closest to Kentucky where Teach for America already exists.
He says that number would grow in future years but, he admits, Teach for America is “not a silver bullet” to fix all of West Virginia’s education issues.