Tuesday, April 19, 2011

GUEST COLUMN: "Bringing Teach for America to Ohio" by St. Rep. Combs

By State Rep. Courtney Combs

Today in Ohio we are faced with a wide achievement gap in our public school system.  While students from high-income, suburban communities have access to unlimited resources and the best teachers available, students typically attending low-income, urban and rural schools have access to a small fraction of these resources.  This socioeconomic disparity is reflected in underprivileged students’ shockingly low achievement levels in school, leaving those from these districts with limited opportunity for future success.
Working in these environments, teachers often become jaded and lose motivation themselves, which furthers the problem.  This lack of motivated teachers causes young students to develop the same attitude toward school, perpetuating the issue and leaving low-income schools without as many dedicated educators. Why? It causes other teachers to flock to wealthier school districts, making matters even worse in  the low-income schools. 
Teach For America is a volunteer corps determined to combat underachievement and malaise in these types of school districts.  Recruiting the brightest recent college graduates of various academic majors, the organization sends passionate, talented young adults to teach for two or more years to underprivileged students in low-income school districts.  These young adults are compassionate and driven, dedicated to reducing the nationwide achievement gap in education.  To participate in Teach For America, participants must follow a rigorous and competitive application process that includes attending a five-week intensive training program in the summer, as well as obtaining a resident educator’s license.
Even though we have seen Ohio’s achievement gap widen over the years, Teach For America has been prevented from establishing itself in our state.  Clinging to a variety of licensure laws and policies, its opponents will not allow Teach For America’s temporary resident educator licenses to be valid in Ohio, and we are taking steps to correct this at the Ohio House.
I have chosen to sponsor House Bill 21, which will finally bring Teach For America to Ohio.  House Bill 21 waives the extraneous education licensure requirements currently on the books and direct the State Board of Education to issue a resident educator license to any Teach For America participant so long as they have met all of the organization’s requirements.  Furthermore, any teacher in the program who has taught in another state would be issued such a license, as well as credit for two years of the four-year Ohio Teacher Residency Program.  This bill aims at attracting young, talented educators to Ohio and help close the academic achievement gap so visible in our state.
House Bill 21, having already been passed in the House and Senate, is expected to be signed by the governor in the very near future.  When it is enacted, I am incredibly confident that we will all see much-needed improvement in schools across the state.  On average, nine-year-olds from low-income communities are three grade levels behind their high-income counterparts.  Furthermore, these same schools are the ones that face the most daunting fiscal crises in the near future, limiting their access to resources even more.  As it stands, students and staff alike are continuously looking at a bleak future with less hope for students’ success down the road.
I tell you with confidence that Teach For America will give hope to these staff members and students of low-income school districts.  Employed in over 30 states already, Teach For America has proven its effectiveness over and over, bringing hope and motivation to underprivileged students from coast to coast.  With the removal of unnecessary licensure requirements, Ohio will finally embrace this program with open arms and start to combat the “brain drain” that has spread throughout our state.