News Column

Gov. McDonnell Supports 'Teach for America'

Jan. 4, 2013

Annie McCallum

Gov. Bob McDonnell announced plans Thursday to pursue legislation that would bring Teach for America staffers to Virginia, establish an A-F grading system for schools, bolster third-grade reading proficiency and allow school divisions to request waivers from the State Board of Education from certain state requirements.

McDonnell, who rolled out a series of education initiatives last month, made his latest announcement Thursday at Goochland Middle School flanked by educators, legislators and parents, according to a news release.

Teach for America, a nonprofit that sends top college grads into tough-to-fill teaching spots in low-income schools across the country, has not had a presence in Virginia. The group does operate in neighboring Washington, D.C., and Baltimore schools. The organization's participation and influence across the country has grown in recent years.

McDonnell seeks to put the program in place in Virginia schools by the 2013-14 school year, according to the news release.

Teach for America has faced criticism from teachers' unions that question participants' teaching expertise and whether staffers take the jobs of veteran teachers. But the group trains its members extensively and has pointed to success educating students in low- income communities where positions can be difficult to fill.

"We must embrace a culture of innovation and accountability by adopting proven reforms, reducing red tape for educators, supporting the highest degree of professionalism in the classroom, and giving our teachers and students the tools necessary to achieve success in our schools," McDonnell said in a statement Thursday. "School divisions must also have the flexibility to do what is in the best interest of the child because all students deserve innovation in their classrooms."

John O'Neil, Virginia Education Association communications director, said his organization is waiting for details on McDonnell's proposals and will be looking closely at their implications for students and educators.

He also proposed several measures seeking to increase flexibility for schools, including the "K-12 Red Tape Reduction" that would allow school divisions to request waivers from the state board. Another proposal seeks to provide greater leeway when it comes fulfilling the state's Standards of Quality.

Another item that McDonnell recommends, the "Reading is Fundamental Initiative," would create additional instruction time for reading specialists to work with struggling students. According to the news release, the additional time would be granted through waivers to schools with a reading pass rate of less than 75 percent or schools accredited with warning in reading.

As part of the education initiatives proposed last month, McDonnell called for a 2 percent raise for educators but only if the General Assembly makes changes to the current teacher contract process.

Source: (C) 2013 Roanoke Times & World News. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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