During the last legislative session, state lawmakers passed two bills that aimed to ease requirements for people to join the teaching force, HB4010 and HB4122.
Generally, both bills create the space for alternative licensure of teachers who receive a bachelor's degree in disciplines that align to teaching subjects. But while the new laws roll back some of the most arduous education requirements, they only offer a degree of flexibility. Someone who majors in chemistry in college would still be pigeonholed and only allowed to teach chemistry in public schools. Someone who majored in math but wants to teach English would be out of luck.
In the voice recording, a state Department of Education aide admitted that current state law is "problematic because in cases of elementary education, there's no applicable bachelor's degree."
Will Nash, executive director of the Appalachia branch of Teach for America, said in earlier interview that TFA prides itself on opening up the teaching profession to as many people as possible, but "the current legislation [in West Virginia] makes for a difficult climate to get new teachers to the state."
He said West Virginia's two bill changes are steps in the right direction, but "we would love to see some specific language in this bill that would allow alternative certification based on a demonstration of subject mastery that would open opportunities for the diversity of our candidates (like those candidates who might not possess a BA/BS in a specific discipline but have the requisite knowledge to teach that subject area as proven by passage of a content knowledge test like the PRAXIS)."
Manchin said she didn't know why the state was trying to change TFA if was expanding across the country.
"They've got a program that's working, why are we trying to fix it?" Manchin said in the recording. "It works in other states but they try to come to West Virginia and we're trying to fix it? You wouldn't bring program in the program in the first place if it wasn't working."
Teach for America is controversial in education circles, with many teachers unions decrying the program as nothing more than a résumé-builder for recent college grads who don't have a love for teaching.
Judy Hale, president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said she wasn't sure if students in TFA entered the program for the right reasons.
"I'm not totally opposed to it, but they tend to be people who are building a resume and are here today and gone tomorrow," said Hale. "I'm not sure Teach for America is the best way to educate our kids."
At its retreat in March, the state board agreed to endorse a law change that would eliminate the barriers to starting a Teach for America program in their final response to the education audit.
Reach Amy Julia Harris at amy.har...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.