Need for Better Schools Clear

Many children in West Virginia suffer from poverty, health concerns, drug and alcohol abuse and a variety of other challenges. But high on the list of problems facing them is the state’s education system, according to the new Kids Count report.

Kids Count, a program of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, looks at the well-being of children in all 50 states. Each year a report ranking each state’s children in areas ranging from economic well-being to health issues is released.

“Education is the worst ranking of any domain (measured by the Kids Count study in West Virginia),” said Margie Hale, state executive director of the program.

West Virginia’s education system was rated 47th in the nation, ahead of only Mississippi, New Mexico and Nevada. In comparison, Ohio ranked 18th and Pennsylvania eighth.

Kids Count relies heavily on a few sets of statistics to set its rankings, so the study should not be viewed as a definitive look at any state’s education system. In addition, some of the numbers checked may not have strong relationships to quality public schools. For example, one number in the Kids Count report is the percentage of children in Head Start programs – but evidence on whether such involvement helps education in later life is decidedly mixed.

Other statistics are valid and troubling, however. For example, Kids Count found West Virginia’s high school dropout rate is 15.5 percent – much too high.

Taken by itself, the Kids Count report is far from definitive in terms of school quality in West Virginia.

But viewed in the context of many other reports and an ocean of statistics showing Mountain State students lag behind many of their peers elsewhere, the study is one more reason for worry. It also is yet another strong indicator of the need for improvement in our state’s public schools.