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Editorial: This is the year for education reform action

Feb. 18, 2013 @ 06:42 AM

Education is a process, and a very complex one at that.

So, it is understandable that educators, parents and the public spend much of their time focused on the process — from school hours to teacher training and course work to extracurricular activities.
But we also have to look at the results.

How do we score on producing graduates with the knowledge and skills to get a good job and/or succeed in higher education? For West Virginia’s public elementary and secondary schools, the answer to that question is “not very well.”

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin outlined the evidence last Wednesday night in his State of the State address:
n Education Week magazine’s annual survey ranks West Virginia 49th in student achievement.

n On the Nation’s Report Card, West Virginia students rank below the national average in 21 out of 24 categories, and some scores have been slipping.

But if you are not impressed by standardized tests, consider these measures:

n More than 20 percent of high school freshmen do not graduate.

n West Virginia leads the nation in the percentage of 16-19 years old who neither work nor go to school.

n Many of those who do graduate need remedial instruction to do community college or university course work, and even with those extra classes, many never graduate.

This is all disappointing, especially when you consider that West Virginia ranks above the national average on education spending.

As Tomblin put it last week, “education in West Virginia must change,” and the governor has focused his reform proposal on a very important results-oriented goal — all third-grade students should be reading on the third-grade level.

That is critical because after the third grade, students must read well to succeed in all the other courses they will take. Students who don’t read well are much more likely to do poorly in school or drop out.

Of course, the devil is in the details about how you meet that third-grade standard. Tomblin’s strategies include improved teacher training and a range of support for early childhood education and development, including full-day pre-school across the state in three years and funds for child care.

The governor also proposed doing more to engage students and help them understand the connection between school and getting a good job. He recommends more continuing education for teachers, more local control for school districts and taking advantage of technology to deliver education more efficiently.

There will be many specifics to debate and many questions to answer in the coming weeks, but Tomblin has targeted the right goals.

The West Virginia General Assembly is poised to take a big step to improve student achievement and ultimately the workforce and the future of the economy. Let’s just hope lawmakers get the job done this year.



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