Business Leaders Back Reform

West Virginia’s education system is broken, in need of significant changes if not a complete overhaul. On this, the vast majority of us can agree.

As is so often the case, the devil will be in the details as our state’s leaders take on the mammoth task of forever altering the way our students learn. The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce stands ready and able to assist with these vitally important changes that will benefit our students, our teachers, our families, our businesses, and indeed our entire state.

The facts that make the case for massive changes are indisputable:

– Education Week’s Quality Counts survey gave West Virginia an F for student achievement and ranked our state 49th nationally. This grade came despite the fact that our expenditures are among the top 10 nationally.

– StudentsFirst’s state policy report card evaluated our education laws and policies as they relate to elevating teaching, empowering parents, and spending and governing wisely. Again, West Virginia failed.

– Our high school graduation rate is just 78 percent, and far too many of those who do graduate require remedial classes as they pursue the post-secondary training necessary for the jobs being created in our state.

The statistics paint a grim picture in many ways, but we are not without hope.

The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce and its member businesses firmly believe that teachers want to teach and students want to learn. What we require is the leadership to let that happen now.

There are positive signs. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin spent fully half of his State of the State address promoting improvements to education, and the West Virginia Board of Education appears ready to support change.

We applaud those positive thoughts, but the Chamber’s quest to improve student achievement will not end until action is taken. Last year’s comprehensive audit of our bureaucratic system must serve as a blueprint for action, not as a dust collector on a shelf in the back room.

We call on elected officials, school board members and West Virginia Department of Education staff to create higher expectations and demand better performance not only from our students, but from our teachers, our administrators, and our entire communities.

Specifically, we need:

– Capable, committed teachers allowed to encourage thinking and not be concerned about just test results, and principals free to be educational leaders, not just paper-pushing disciplinarians.

– Creativity and flexibility that permit local communities to determine the best way to set a school calendar and hire the most qualified teachers.

– Students who receive individualized educational opportunities that allow them to build on their strengths rather than being beaten down by their weaknesses.

The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce has a history of bringing people together to solve complex problems, and we stand ready to work collaboratively again in this case.

Regardless, however, we will push for the significant changes necessary to immediately allow both teachers and students to do what they yearn to do: teach and learn.