Students, Not Unions, Priority

What’s the purpose of West Virginia’s public school system? To educate our children as well as possible, or to keep teachers’ unions happy?

Apparently there is some confusion about that.

Among many recommendations in a consultant’s study of state schools was one aimed at providing the best teachers taxpayers, with our limited resources, can afford. It suggested scrapping the current system of filling vacancies in classrooms, which relies heavily on the seniority of employees in school systems. Principals ought to be allowed to hire the people they think will work best with children, regardless of seniority, or even whether they already work for school systems, the consultant urged.

That seems obvious. If a bright, eager young education college graduate who seems the perfect fit for, say, an eighth-grade science class applies for that job, the school principal should not have to tell her she’s not getting it because a 10-year veteran of the school system – who may not do as well – says he wants the post.

Is there something to be said for experience? Of course. Principals and superintendents who hire teachers certainly should include it in the many factors they consider when filling vacancies. But if they are going to be held accountable for results in their schools – as they should – they should be given the flexibility to hire teachers they think will do the best with children.

State Board of Education members have discussed the consultant’s proposal – and may be leaning toward rejecting it.

It is not that some board members do not see merit in the idea. But, according to published reports, they worry about backlash from officials of the two big unions to which many West Virginia teachers belong.

The unions have enormous political clout. But state board members should not be so afraid of them that they fail to do what is right for West Virginia children, who deserve the best teachers our schools can find. Legislators should think about that, too, and support the state board when it acts in students’ interests and incurs the wrath of any special interest group for doing so.