ED-WATCH: State Board Proposing County Option Year 'Round School - State Officials Say They Will Fix Broken System

(01/17/2013)

COMMENT By Bob Weaver

If West Virginia's school system was a private business or a national corporation, and performance results were near the bottom, they would go into crisis management, heads would roll, restructuring would happen, or the business would be closed down.

State board members have indicated that's why they fired top official Jorea Marple, considered by many as one of the best education officials to serve in the slot.

In West Virginia, with poor academic outcomes year after year, there are new performance audits, blueprints, initiatives, analysis, goals, studies and god-help-us "visions," on how to fix a broken system.

Following a 2012 audit requested by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, education watchers expect a few changes to improve the state's system related to student achievement.

The audit was highly critical of a top-heavy, bureaucratic, rule-making system with poor outcomes.

The state is last or near-last among the states with student achievement, while it spends among the highest capitated amount of money per student.

Most legislators live in fear of teacher and service personnel unions, and periodically make efforts and noise to improve the system.

Caught in the cross-fire of the system - administrators who care, teachers who can teach, students who need to learn, and parents who expect their child to get an education.

Unfortunately in West Virginia, and maybe across the nation, there is a wide disconnect between those parties.

The audit highlights a myriad of dysfunction with poor outcomes.

WV reporters have had a field day with the coded rule that students must have 180 instructional days a year.

Year after year the state says they have corrected the long term problem of not meeting the 180 day standard, with legislators making changes and bureaucrats issuing press releases.

Other than a handful of counties, it never happens.

Now, the WV Board of Education is saying they are going to make it easier for counties to move to the year-round calendar.

The year-round calendar, also referred to as the balanced calendar, tops the state board's priority list right now, according to member Wade Linger.

The proposed calendar shifts the days when students attend school, moving away from the traditional fall-to-spring schedule.

Linger says such a change will not be mandated.

The audit released in January 2012, gave more than 100 measures that could save the state money and help the state Department of Education operate more efficiently, and theoretically improve academic achievement.

There is a call to develop performance incentives for schools and developing a true teacher effectiveness or evaluation measure.

A former state board member told the Hur Herald some years back, "McDonald's employees get better evaluations."

Linger says the "factory model" approach to education does not work.

"We're close to a situation where everybody's successful because you don't move ahead until you succeed," Linger said.

A new approach would mean more control for teachers, administrators and school boards and less emphasis on standardized tests.

The disconnect between the public, parents and community members with their school systems is widely recognized.

In Calhoun, when key public meetings are held, like the ten-year-comprehensive plan, only a couple of parents showed.

Rarely do community members attend school board meetings, a few show up when there is a conflict over sports or an issue where a parent feels their child is slighted.

"The system is surrounded by invisible quicksand giving those who are bold enough to try and understand it, much less reform it, a sinking sensation," said Charleston attorney and education advocate Charles McElwee.


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