ED-WATCH: STATE EDUCATION IN PITS - Local School Boards Hamstrung To Make Change

(02/08/2012)

By Dianne Weaver

West Virginia's political leaders in Charleston have yet to catch on fire about improving the state's educational system, following numerous national reports and the state's own audit indicating the system is broken and student achievement is in the pits.

West Virginia is not alone in the USA, a nation with a drop-out rate of one-third and achievement levels slipping well below the world's democratic nations.

It's just that the state is worse, with one of the highest per capita costs for education in the country.

Throwing money at the problem has failed.

State Senator Walt Helmick said last year, "We are losing a $100,000 investment for every child that drops out," in addition to the state's Higher Education Policy Commission saying that many students are poorly prepared for college, often requiring six years to get a degree.

The education of children should be the top priority of the legislature, but if history holds true, there will be lots of lip service and little change.

While problems abound for local school systems, state residents are likely to blame their local school systems and school boards, with locals essentially hamstrung by what the recent state audit says is over-regulation, in fact saying, West Virginia is likely the most over-regulated state in the nation.

While a few politicos have spoken out, Charleston has not called for an major imitative to improve the state's educational system, following with their usual lip service to change.

However, State Senate Finance Committee Chairman Roman Prezioso (D-Marion) expressed empathy for the state's dedicated teachers, who with students, parents and taxpayers are among the victims.

Sen. Prezioso told state School Superintendent Dr. Jorea Marple that her department's legislative priorities are "disappointing," saying in her hour-long report he heard little about student priorities.

Superintendent Marple told Prezioso the state board is dealing with many of the issues, saying the legislative priorities were developed after speaking with educators across the state.

Marple was toward the end of her nearly hour-long presentation when Chairman Prezioso told her why he believes the priorities miss the mark.

"I look over these things I don't see anything about truancy, dropout prevention, evaluation, testing, drug prevention, or the middle school dilemma," he said.

The Department of Education's priorities for this session, approved by the state Board of Education, include addressing the OPEB debt, pay raises for teachers, technology infrastructure, funding for the Regional Education Service Agencies (RESA), and mentoring in education, which Chairman Prezioso called the latter best of the group.

"Quite frankly, I think they're disappointing," Prezioso said. "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."

"I want to see more things about students. What are we doing about students? What are we doing about testing? What are we doing about teaching? What are we doing about curriculum? Ya know that's what your priorities should be," he said.

Prezioso cut off the superintendent one final time and said, "Well evidently it's not the teachers and the administrators that I'm talking to."

There are plenty of victims - students, parents, taxpayers and teachers who want to teach - the future of the nation.


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