By Ben Velderman
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – By almost any academic measurement, West Virginia’s public education system is in a shambles.
West Virginia students, for example, were found to be “far below” the national average in science and math readiness, according to a 2011 analysis. And state officials acknowledge that some educators are teaching subjects they have no business teaching.
State officials say one solution would be to allow Teach for America educators into West Virginia’s neediest classrooms.
There’s only one catch: State law won’t allow that to happen, and the state’s teachers unions aren’t likely to permit any change in that state law, reports the Charleston Gazette.
A bit of background first: Teach for America is a program that’s been placing top-performing college graduates as instructors in needy school districts across the nation since 1989. Since TFA members don’t have teaching degrees, the organization carefully selects and trains only the most promising candidates before placing them in classrooms.
Children benefit from TFA members’ unique skills, ability and energy while administrators benefit from adding high-performing, knowledgeable individuals to their faculties – at minimal cost.
The Teach for America program would obviously benefit the Mountain State, which has had a hard time recruiting top teaching talent. However, state law restricts alternatively licensed educators to only teaching subjects in which they have a bachelor’s degree.
For example, chemistry majors are only allowed to teach chemistry in West Virginia’s public schools, notes the Gazette. While that might work all right for secondary teachers, the law effectively keeps TFA members out of West Virginia’s elementary schools, where teachers must handle a variety of subjects.
The state’s silly restrictions aren’t sitting well with members of the West Virginia Board of Education.
“If we had teachers in all the slots, then I can see why we would be picky about [Teach for America],” board member Gayle Manchin said during a meeting earlier this year, according to the Gazette. “But a lot of [teachers] sitting in those seats aren’t qualified in their content area. [School boards] are just trying to put warm bodies into the seats. This is the stuff that drives you insane.”
This “stuff that drives you insane” is directly attributable to West Virginia’s teacher unions. Since Teach for America members are only concerned about educating students – and not the unions’ agenda of bulletproof job protections and perpetual pay raises – the unions see them as a threat.
TFA members come in and teach up a storm for a couple of years, paying little attention to all the work rules and regulations that are buried within the union’s teacher contract. This is upsetting to the teacher unions, and they’ve developed a deep-seated disdain for TFA.
And given that the Mountain State is dominated by labor unions, the West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have the political clout to freeze out TFA.
A good example of the unions’ political power is found on the House of Delegate’s Education Committee. Of the 25 committee members, 18 have been endorsed by the West Virginia Education Association; that includes four of the committee’s nine Republicans!
The practical effect of this power is that union leaders can stop any piece of legislation they disapprove of, which means Teach for America instructors will not be appearing in any West Virginia classrooms for the foreseeable future.
What a shame. West Virginia’s students are falling behind and they’re graduating unprepared to succeed in life. TFA could help many of them, but the unions won’t let that happen.
We understand that West Virginians like labor unions, but we wonder if the Gazette’s report will help wake citizens up to the damage teachers unions are doing to their schools and their children.