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Teach for Virginia
Gov. McDonnell wants Teach for America in Virginia. We agree

Date published: 1/16/2013

AS PART OF his education reform package, Gov. Bob McDonnell issuggesting that Virginia invite Teach For America into the state's most troubled schools. Given the persistent problems in closing the achievement gap in some schools in the state, the idea is well worth pursuing.

Teach For America, founded in 1990, is a nonprofit organization that takes recent college graduates (and professionals looking for a career change), trains them, and places them in hard-to-staff schools. TFA participants commit to teaching for two years. They are paid just like any other beginning teacher in the district in which they are placed. There were 48,000 applicants for TFA this year for 5,800 slots in urban and rural areas.

Advocates say TFA teachers are fresh, bright, enthusiastic, and committed to helping underachievers. Naysayers claim that TFA is a "glorified temp agency," that participants are poorly trained, and that their high turnover rate actually destabilizes some schools.

Those objections fall flat: Schools which accept TFA are generally plagued by staff burnout and turnover. Statistics show that TFA participants stick with both the program and education: Of the 28,000 TFA graduates, fully two-thirds are continuing in education full time as a career. And, while the training TFA provides (a five-week summer boot camp and courses throughout the year) is not the normal course for teacher training, it does seem to equip TFA participants to do the job. One New York City assistant principal told The New York Times that "[w]orking with [a TFA recruit] is no different than working with any other teacher. In the end, a teacher's success comes down to personality, knowledge, willingness to learn, communication skills, interpersonal skills, adaptability, determination, passion and support."

Anyone who has ever sat in a classroom gets that: Some people are able to engage with students, to command attention, to inspire and practice good classroom management. Others are not, regardless of how many college education courses they've taken. If TFA helps discover the teaching talent in college grads who hadn't foreseen education as a possible career, then so be it. The students are the winners, which is the way it should be.

Currently, about 300 graduates of Virginia universities are enrolled in TFA. That's a lot of local talent lost to other states, talent that could be helping students in Petersburg and southwest Virginia and other places around the Old Dominion find ways to succeed.

Mr. McDonnell's idea would take a change in the law: Currently, there are two ways to achieve alternative certification for Virginia schools, and TFA doesn't fit either of them. The General Assembly should take a good hard look at changing that. Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia have already welcomed TFA into their schools. The Old Dominion should as well.