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Editorial: Education bill good start, but there's more to do

Apr. 13, 2013 @ 11:30 PM

Many proponents of major education reform in West Virginia had hoped this would be the year for big change.

For years, West Virginia has committed above-average resources to public schools, but ended up with below-average results. Those disappointments include low student achievement scores, high dropout rates and graduates who often need remedial instruction to pursue college or technical degrees.

In response to those problems and a critical in-depth education audit, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin proposed a broad slate of policy changes to improve the state's public schools. The momentum seemed to be there, but then the legislature began to whittle away at the provisions.

The bill Tomblin signed Wednesday made important progress, but left much to be done.

The new legislation includes several steps forward, including:

Giving counties more flexibility in hiring teachers. That process currently places too much weight on seniority, and the new legislation diminishes that somewhat and allows more consideration to be given to other factors such as relevant specialized training and past evaluations.

Steps to help school districts schedule 180 days of student learning.

Financial help for teachers who work in critical-need subjects or maintain national certification.

Requires counties to offer full-day programs for 4-year-olds.

Requires testing for high school juniors and remedial classes during the senior year for those who need it.

Taking some steps to trim the size and control of the state Department of Education in Charleston, which has been criticized as top-heavy and an obstacle to innovation on the local level.

But many of the proposals designed to make student performance a bigger part of teacher evaluations and pay fell by the wayside.

The education audit stressed that the No. 1 factor in improving student performance is highly effective teachers -- teachers who really make a difference in the classroom. National research also shows that years of service or even advanced degrees are not necessarily indicators of teacher effectiveness.

West Virginia needs to join the country's best public school systems in rewarding teachers for outstanding performance, using classroom outcomes to help identify poor performers and creating a recruiting and hiring approach that puts the strongest teacher in every classroom.

The new education legislation takes steps in that direction, and we applaud those efforts.

But there is still more to be done if West Virginia is going to give our students the world-class education they will need to compete in the future.

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