We struggle in West Virginia to fill every school classroom with an educator certified in the discipline they are teaching. According to the West Virginia Education Association, we currently have 316 teaching positions being filled by long-term substitutes.
A significant increase in starting teacher pay—it’s currently around $34,000—would help, but it’s always going to be hard to attract more qualified educators to some of the rural and poorer parts of the state. Also, it’s going to be an ongoing challenge to find the money necessary to raise starting salaries to a level that will attract more talented young people into the profession.
That’s why West Virginia should take advantage of the Teach for America (TFA) program.
Teach for America is a nonprofit organization that recruits motivated and talented individuals to work in low-income schools for two years. Some of the recruits have teaching experience, but most don’t. All are immersed in an intensive five-week training program before entering the classroom.
TFA has plenty of critics, including some alums of the program, who say dropping into a school for just two years can have a destabilizing impact on the community. Opponents also say the trainees cannot master all the pedagogical skills of a teacher certified through traditional training and it’s insulting to the profession to suggest they can.
However, new research suggests TFA can effectively fill the void in high-poverty schools.
Mathematica Policy Research has just released a study examining the effectiveness of TFA elementary school teachers relative to other teachers in the same school. The research shows that on average, TFA corp members “were as effective as other teachers in the same high-poverty elementary schools in teaching both reading and math.”
Mathematica reports its findings are consistent with earlier studies on the effectiveness of Teach for America educators.
The West Virginia Legislature is trying again this year to approve TFA here. It’s included in HB 2005 which deals with methods of alternative certification for teachers. The bill has passed the House and is on the agenda for the Senate Education Committee this morning.
It’s understandable that some West Virginia teachers take offense to TFA. Here’s what one former teacher wrote on the Facebook page “Don’t Teach For America,” that opposes TFA in West Virginia. “This is a slap in the face to teachers who have worked hard for their degrees and certifications. The main problem with the lack of teachers in WV is money. The pay is pathetic.”
West Virginia teachers should make more money. If we expect professionalism from educators, then they should be paid as professionals. However, let’s keep in mind the goal is to get the most qualified person in the classroom. If Teach for America can help fill the void, even if it’s only for short periods of time, then West Virginia should utilize the program.