WatchBlog: West Virginia’s education system is in need of fundamental reform
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By Steven Allen Adams | West Virginia Watchdog
CHARLESTON — It’s been over two weeks since the start of the West Virginia Legislature’s 2012 general session, but there has been very little talk about education reform.
That is, until yesterday and in an unusual place.
Instead of hearing school officials questioned in one of the two education committees, the state’s top education official was scolded in the Senate Finance Committee yesterday afternoon.
According to West Virginia MetroNews, State Senate Finance Committee Chairman Roman Prezioso (D-Marion) took state School Superintendent Dr. Jorea Marple to task for lack of focus on improving education in her fiscal year 2013 budget.
“I look over these things I don’t see anything about truancy, dropout prevention, evaluation, testing, drug prevention, the middle school dilemma,” he said. “Quite frankly, I think they’re disappointing. And I’ve talked to the state Board of Education president about these issues and I think he agrees with me. Because I think if this is the best we can do then we do have some problems.“
Sen. Prezioso is absolutely correct and kudos to him for standing up for better education. The state is in need of major education reforms, and it’s getting to the point that lawmakers are just going to have to take a firm stand, even if that means taking a hard line during an election year.
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at a few stats. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) released the 17th edition of their Report Card on American Education. The report gives West Virginia a D+ for its education policy.
I know, they’re an evil conservative organization (even though two West Virginia Democrats, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin and former state Sen. Mike Oliverio, were once state co-chairs for ALEC). So let’s take a look at different metrics. What does the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have to say about the matter?
Well, West Virginia’s NAEP performance rank for 2011 was 51st. That’s right, there are 49 states and the District of Columbia that had a better ranking than West Virginia. The ranking measures overall 2011 scores and their gains and losses on the NAEP fourth-and-eighth grade reading and mathematics exams from 2003 to 2011.
Our rank in 2010 was 50th. We dropped to dead last in 2011 with no Mississippi to serve as our foil (they came in 48th). Our surrounding states did much better in 2011. Virginia ranked 26th, Pennsylvania ranked 5th, Ohio ranked 21st, Maryland ranked 20th, and Kentucky ranked 37th.
Only 37 percent of West Virginia’s middle and high income students scored “proficient or better” on the 2011 NAEP 4th grade reading exam. Only 14 percent of low-income students, those eligible for free and reduced-price lunch – scored “proficient or better.”
“Growing up in a middle to high-income family fails to come close to guaranteeing that you will learn to read in the early grades,” the report said.
Worse than that, while every other state saw gains on their combined NAEP 4th and 8th grade reading and math exams between 2003 and 2011 for low income students, West Virginia actually went backward 7 points. Our students are failing and our low-income students (of which I was once a member) are REALLY failing.
“An in-depth investigation of what has gone wrong with K–12 performance in West Virginia lies outside of the scope of this book,” the report said. “Note, however, that if we were parents, taxpayers or lawmakers from the Mountain State that we would start looking for answers right away.”
If you’re not angry, you should be. But it just so happens we were given a road map earlier this month to start addressing some of these issues. Before becoming a U.S. Senator, Gov. Joe Manchin commissioned a study of the state’s education system. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin released that report, titled “Education Efficiency Audit of West Virginia’s Primary and Secondary Education System,” which was completed by Public Works, a consulting firm.
That report concluded that, between the Legislature and the Department of Education, the state had too much of a regulatory stranglehold on the county school systems. It recommended cutting bureaucracy at the top and giving the counties more flexibility, as well as easing burdens on teachers so they can actually teach. It also called for better evaluation of teachers, incentives to bring quality teachers to the state, and removing limitations that keep schools from getting to the required 180 days of instructional learning.
I’m surprised we’re not seeing more attention brought to this report and what the Legislature plans to do by the larger papers with larger staffs. Perhaps, for example, the Charleston Daily Mail education reporter should stop playing around with social media and perhaps ask harder questions at the next state BOE meeting.
Gov. Tomblin has a couple of initiatives that could help, including better teacher evaluations that incorporate student achievement into the results, and expanding the county innovation zone program, which gives school systems greater flexibility to try new learning techniques. There are also dozens of bills dealing with different aspects of education reform. Some are good, some are bad, but very few seem to be getting much attention yet.
Education reform can’t wait, period. It can’t wait for the elections to be over, it can’t wait for another year. We’re going to continue to be last if the state doesn’t take action.
- Republican Bill Maloney files for second run for Governor of West Virginia (video) (westvirginia.watchdog.org)
- Natural gas cracker tax incentive becomes first bill passed by West Virginia Legislature in 2012 (video) (westvirginia.watchdog.org)
- West Virginia public employee pensions see improvement (westvirginia.watchdog.org)
- BREAKING: Republican John Raese will challenge Joe Manchin for U.S. Senate again (video) (westvirginia.watchdog.org)
- Senate Economic Development Committee discusses West Virginia jobs (westvirginia.watchdog.org)
Posted under Blog, Education, Governor, Legislature, West Virginia.
Tags: American Legislative Exchange Council, Earl Ray Tomblin, Joe Manchin, National Assessment of Educational Progress, Roman W. Prezioso Jr., United States, West Virginia
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