In his State of the State address, Governor Tomblin talked about the difficulty West Virginia has finding qualified public school teachers, especially in math, science and foreign languages.
In fact, it’s estimated that this year as many as 600 classes have teachers who are not certified to teach that particular subject.
The Teach For America (TFA) program could help fill some of those vacancies.
TFA is a national, non-profit organization that recruits top college graduates (often from elite schools) and professionals to teach in urban and rural schools. Corp members, who do not have teaching degrees, go through an intensive five-week training course to prepare them for the classroom where they will spend two years.
The program, which has been in existence for 22 years, has 10,000 members teaching in 46 regions of the country.
Tomblin will likely include the Teach for America program in his education reform bill. However, he may have left that out of his State of the State speech because it’s going to be controversial.
The two teacher unions in the state, the West Virginia Education Association and the West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, are dead set against allowing TFA in here.
They worry the TFA corps members fall far short of the classroom management skills necessary to be an effective teacher. Additionally, one teacher union leader told me it’s demeaning to have a recent college graduate dally in teaching until they find a job in their field.
The research on the effectiveness of TFA is mixed.
A 2010 study by the University of North Carolina found TFA instructors outperformed teachers traditionally prepared by UNC in five out of nine comparisons. In the other four, there was no difference.
However, a review by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice found that the evidence was less conclusive.
TFA teachers hold their own compared with teachers in the same schools who are less likely to be certified. However, “studies indicate that the students of novice TFA teachers perform significantly less well in reading and mathematics than those of credentialed beginning teachers.”
The bottom line, according to the Great Lakes Center report, is “that TFA is likely not the panacea that will reduce disparities in educational outcomes.”
Interestingly, Will Nash, TFA’s executive director for the Appalachian Region, agrees with that assessment.
“TFA doesn’t think we’re a silver bullet,” Nash told me on Metronews Talkine Friday. But he does believe his organization can be part of the solution to the shortage of qualified teachers.
For example, when I asked Nash if TFA could produce a physics teacher for a southern West Virginia County, he said “chances are very, very good that we can.”
Now we’re getting somewhere.