CHARLESTON,W.Va. -- When Gov. Tomblin delivers his State of the State mandate to the Legislature on Wednesday, he's expected to focus on education reforms -- especially ones suggested by the statewide audit that studied West Virginia's dismal rank in standardized test scores.One of the recommendations would revise rules for "alternative certification," enabling some highly qualified people to serve as teachers without completing an array of specialized education courses.Particularly, it would let dedicated, idealistic, young volunteers of Teach For America work in rural classrooms that suffer teacher shortages.We think it's a splendid idea to accept these bright college graduates, who sign up for at least two years of service in poor regions. They're motivated by the same noble feelings that spur others to join the Peace Corps and VISTA.However, West Virginia's two main teacher unions -- which focus endlessly on raising teacher pay and protecting teacher jobs -- oppose the TFA volunteers. Apparently the unions see the small group of volunteers as unwanted competition."I personally don't believe in Teach For America," Dale Lee of the West Virginia Education Association was quoted as saying. He said it would be "lowering standards" to let the volunteers into classrooms.
Good grief -- that's petty-minded. The state's standards must be rather low already, judging by education outcomes.West Virginia is 49th-worst among states in "science and engineering readiness," the American Institute of Physics says.Only 18 percent of this state's eighth-graders are proficient in math, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress -- and only 3 percent rate "advanced," giving West Virginia the nation's poorest showing in that category.West Virginia 15-year-olds equal Bulgarian teens in math, the Program for International Student Assessment says.These levels of education aren't likely to worsen if conscientious volunteers get a chance to teach in mountain classrooms lacking other teachers.We hope legislators listen politely to the teacher unions, then open the door for Teach For America.