Lawmakers must improve schools
West Virginia legislators determined to get the ball rolling on improvement of public schools have been showered with abuse this year. Unions representing many school employees staged a two-day strike earlier this year, killing one attempt at an education bill. Gov. Jim Justice had threatened to veto it anyway.
Now, state senators have tried again with a Student Success Act. House of Delegates members are discussing it and other approaches to better schools.
Once again the governor has been critical of some aspects of the Senate bill. This week, he even suggested the news media should focus more on the state’s improved economy than on education.
The unions shrill that reform-minded legislators want to kill public schools. There is even talk among some of a retaliatory strike this fall if lawmakers dare approve anything like the Senate bill.
Liberal legislators have suggested the delegates’ special session should be canceled. Or, that failing, some lawmakers hope to tie the House up in controversy. “I think we spend two days talking about these things going nowhere and we punt. We recess again,” commented Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh. “I hope we do better than that,” he added.
Indeed. Have we forgotten why legislators took up school improvement in the first place?
Statistics and horror stories abound. One sheet of numbers tells the story. It is the state Department of Education’s “Long-Term Goals and Annual Targets.”
In Mountain State public schools, the average grade-level proficiency rate in mathematics during the 2016-17 school year was 34.8%, using the education department’s own criteria.
Average proficiency in language arts was slightly better, at 47.5%
Education officials’ goal is to cut the gap between 2016-17 levels and 100% proficiency in half by the 2029-30 school year.
That would boost proficiency rates to 67.4% in math and 73.8% in English.
After a decade, then — nearly a full cohort of children entering elementary school, passing through middle school and nearly in their senior years of high school — one-third of students will remain less than proficient in math and more than one-fourth will lack proficiency in English.
There are many excellent teachers in our state. There are some good schools. Yet the system — set up by education bureaucrats, special interests and misguided legislators over the years — has failed.
Our public school system needs to be made better. That work can’t wait.