CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Teach for America, the national nonprofit organization the governor wants to invite to West Virginia as part of his proposed education overhaul, already is recruiting professionals and recent college graduates from the state to serve in high-needs public schools across the country, organization officials say.
The governor's legislation would provide the temporary certificates that Teach for America participants would need to enter West Virginia classrooms. It would also provide them a way to pursue a permanent certificate, should they choose to stay.
A couple dozen West Virginians are currently taking part in the two-year program, which seeks to improve student performance in low-income areas, said Will Nash, executive director of the group's Appalachian region.
"We've got a good number of people who are West Virginia natives and are interested in teaching in West Virginia," Nash said.
He added, "The interesting thing is, they all have to leave the state."
Critics of this part of the governor's legislation include groups representing teachers. Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, contrasted it with other provisions that increase teacher training requirements. Those more rigorous standards aim to aid Tomblin's goal of ensuring that every third-grader finishes the year reading at grade level.
"Someone without a degree in education can take five weeks' training and teach (kindergarten through third grade)," Lee said Monday. "Tell me how that makes sense. It just lowers the standards of the profession."
Teach for America prepares participants through a five-week training program billed as intensive. Nash estimated that it will accept only about 12 percent of the more than 60,000 who apply to take part.
Program officials cite high marks for the effectiveness of its teachers in Louisiana, North Carolina and Tennessee. Fans of Teach for America's training approach include Gaston Caperton, a former two-term governor of West Virginia who stepped down as president of the College Board in October after 13 years. The program now sends around 10,000 beginning teachers to districts in 36 states, including neighboring Ohio and Kentucky. Virginia's Legislature passed a measure earlier this year, requested by that state's governor, creating the sort of provisional certification that Tomblin seeks in his bill.