Educating All W.Va. Children

Apparently West Virginians should just give up on striving for a public school system that can prepare all students to succeed in an increasingly competitive world. To listen to the excuses offered over new evidence of education failure, there is little or no hope we can do better.

Mountain State high school seniors had the worst reading scores of students in 13 states checked through the National Assessment of Educational Progress last year. Just 28 percent of our state’s seniors achieved reading test scores at or above the NAEP “proficient” level.

In mathematics, West Virginia seniors’ scores were, on average, tied for the worst in the 13-state region.

Leaders of the state’s two teachers’ unions offered excuses for the lackluster performance.

“We need to focus on students’ social and emotional issues as well as their academic needs,” commented Christine Campbell, president of the state chapter of the?American Federation of Teachers.

“All educators will tell you that the poverty level will have a direct reflection on the test scores,” said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association.

West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the nation, of course. It is true that socio-economic status has much to do with achievement in school. Good teachers understand that.

But they also recognize that one of the most dangerous phenomena in pedagogy is the rule of self-fulfilling expectations. If we expect some children to perform badly in the classroom, they will.

If, on the other hand, we expect high levels of achievement, we are much more likely to see them.

It sounds simplistic – but psychologists, sociologists and educators who have looked into it understand it is true.

Remember the mantra some school reformers adopted a few years ago:?All children can learn. Educators who adopted it found, sometimes to their surprise, that it was accurate.

Some states with large percentages of students from poor families do much better than West Virginia in NAEP testing. For example, Arkansas and Tennessee outperformed our state in reading – but both states have higher poverty rates.

Education is the key to pulling oneself out of poverty. Deciding that all children can learn – unless they happen to be poor – condemns many of them to continuing poverty.

West Virginia can do much better in educating our children. But the first step – clearly not taken by some so-called leaders – is deciding it will happen.