|By Dianne Weaver|
While there is concern about the low performance of Calhoun Schools, there are plenty of problems with the state's education system, according to an audit prepared for state legislators.
West Virginia spends about $3.5 billion of state and federal taxpayer dollars on education in the Mountain State, with the state generally ranking at the bottom with student performance.
The spending per student, is among the highest in the nation.
West Virginia students rank below the national average in 21 of 24 categories measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and is near last in the highly respected Nation's Report Card.
A just-released 143-page report commissioned by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin cites many of the problems and makes recommendations for change.
Just for starters, West Virginia has a school system that cannot keep schools in session for 180 days a year or provide annual evaluations for teacher performance, after their initial hiring.
Virtually every legislative session politicos say they've fixed such problems. Not!
Then to consider the state system has almost the highest ratio of administrator-to-student in the USA in the state system.
The morale among teachers in the Mountain State is at an all-time low, according to a new survey by the West Virginia Education Association, many teachers saying it has become difficult to do their job.
The audit says the state's system is likely one of the most regulated systems in America, using the WV Legislature to make the rules into state code.
"The system is detailed to the extreme in statutory language that results in an education system that has little flexibility to modify policy and operations without changes to the WV Code...We have encountered no other state that insulates its education system so much from gubernatorial or voter control," says the report.
The audit says the educational statues passed by the WV Legislature have become cumbersome, stifling imitative and protecting the status quo.
The burden of statues requires an extraordinary number of bureaucrats to be enforcers.
The report says that West Virginia has the equivalent of one staff person for every 419 students, second largest ratio in the USA, with Alaska have the largest ratio.
Nebraska, which has about the same number of students as West Virginia, has one staff member for every 1,354 students.
West Virginia's state education bureaucracy has 675 staff members while Nebraska has 215.
West Virginia's Department of Education has 54 senior staff administrative positions, including 20 executive directors and division directors and 27 assistant directors.
Nebraska has 17. Colorado has 14.
Among the issues cited, the state's expansive RESA bureaucracy.
The No Child Left Behind education law was cast as a symbol of possibility, offering a promise of improved schools for the nation's poor and minority children and to better prepare students in a competitive world.
President George W. Bush's most celebrated domestic accomplishment has become a symbol of failure, and to many educators it is federal over-reach or take-over of the nation's educational system.
The law forced schools to confront the uncomfortable reality that many kids simply weren't learning, but it's primarily known for its emphasis on standardized tests and the labeling of thousands of schools as "failures."
When it comes to teacher pay, West Virginia ranks low in the nation. Teachers make nearly $12,000 below the national average. The pay is from $5,000 to $20,000 below surrounding states.
"The main thrust of this review is to make the West Virginia educational system more efficient, from top to bottom, so that tax dollars can be better spent educating our children," the report from the consulting firms Public Works LC and GMT said.
About 60 of the reviews recommendations would trim and reorganize the bureaucracy.
While the WV Legislature in previous years has attempted to change some of the obvious deficiencies, they have consistently come up short, the status quo being the norm.
Another 73 recommendations focus on teachers, principals and school coursework. These include requiring a reduced workload for new teachers, and low-cost loans for those who agree to live and work in the more rural communities for five years.
It also proposes special pay to retain teachers or keep them in high-need schools and subject areas. The state, the report suggests, should offer higher salaries to teachers who agree to merit-based pay.
The reports says at least 35 counties can save $4.4 million over five years if they stop paying bus drivers extra for midday runs.
The report indicates the state system has problems removing ineffective teachers, suggesting adopting the practices of other states such as Oklahoma, which recently adopted policies targeting ineffective teachers for firing.
Educational critics believe it is highly unlikely there will be any sweeping changes that could improve educational outcomes, when the political will is to keep things the way they are, which includes a wide disconnect between the parent, the public and school systems.
County school board members, more often than not, are overwhelmed with the the rules and power of the system, they can make few changes except to walk in lock-step.
Calhoun and 46 other counties took part in the review. Eight did not, including Clay, Doddering, Greenbriar, Hampshire, Hancock, Monroe, Ritchie and Roane counties.
See West Virginia Board of Education - OEPA-Ratings Book