Don’t Postpone School Reform

There seems to be general agreement major reforms are needed in West Virginia’s public schools. But getting everyone “on the same page” about what to do is another story.

Former state school Superintendent Jorea Marple and the Department of Education were not thoroughly on board with the reform movement, state Board of Education members who fired Marple agreed.

But when board President Wade Linger discussed reform with legislators last week, he and his fellow board members were criticized. “If you sit there and tell me you feel strongly about some of these things, then that’s a fairly weak reply to me,” state Senate Education Chairman Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, told Linger in asking why more specific recommendations have not been offered.

Far from being on the same page about reform, officials of the state’s two teachers’ unions, furious about Marple’s firing, may not even be reading the same book.

Then there are the classroom teachers and school principals who, in the end, will be handed a package of legislation and state board policies and told to implement them. Though they have had opportunities to provide input, will their valuable experience receive appropriate consideration?

A consultant’s “audit” of the education system, completed nearly a year ago, is the basis for the current school reform movement. It was highly critical of West Virginia’s centralized control of schools and called for substantial cuts at the Department of Education.

With only about 10 weeks before the Legislature opens its regular annual session for 2013, lawmakers can be pardoned for wondering if they will have a realistic blueprint from which to work when they tackle school reform.

But they and state board members who fired Marple are right to view the issue as a priority. As Linger noted last week, West Virginia students scored below the national average on 21 of the 24 indicators of performance measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

So clearly, change is needed. But what change?

The current confusion – and sometimes outright disagreement – over the process is a recipe for failure when the Legislature meets in February.

Amid all the uncertainty, however, one thing is crystal clear: School reform has to begin this winter. Putting it off yet again in an attempt to achieve consensus is not acceptable.