Just What Is Problem In Schools?

West Virginia state Senate Bill 451, called by many the “omnibus education bill,” was no such thing. Had it been enacted, it would neither have destroyed public schools nor reinvented them. Both claims were made.

Like so much of the discussion about how to offer better educations to Mountain State children, SB 451 merely nipped around the edges.

It had some good components. Had it been enacted, it might have improved math education a bit. It might have helped attract and retain a few good teachers. It might have enhanced how we help troubled children, somewhat. And it might have offered very limited school choice to a few parents.

That — charter schools supported in part with tax dollars — was one of the big gripes by the two teachers’ unions. How dare legislators divert money from public schools, they thundered.

In truth, it is unlikely much state money would have gone to charters, especially had they been limited to two locations (Charleston and Huntington), as envisioned in the House of Delegates version of the bill.

What was wrong with the charter school proposal was that it didn’t go far enough.

A majority in the state Senate favored seven locations for charter schools. That might help a few kids in the cities.

But what of the youngsters in Hundred, Cameron, Valley Head, Pickens, Moorefield, Welch … and on and on and on? There will never be charter schools in those communities, because they’re too small to be profitable locations.

Only online charter schools, public or charter, do any good for the vast majority of West Virginia children. There was no online charter component to SB 451. One wonders whether Ohio’s sorry experience with online charters — stemming solely from a lack of mandated accountability — had anything to do with Mountain State legislators shying away from them.

Again, though, SB 451 would have amounted to no more than treating a very few symptoms of our concern about public education.

The problem is that we don’t know what the problem is. Really.

Has anyone actually determined scientifically why it is that so many students in our state do not seem to achieve at the same levels as their peers in other states? Really looked into it?

Not to my knowledge.

Perhaps we don’t really want to know the answer. Do West Virginians want to be told that part of the reason some of our children don’t learn as much as they should is our culture?

There are other causes, of course. My guess is that state and federal regulation is a big obstacle. The education bureaucracy isn’t content with just telling teachers what students should learn. It insists on telling them how to educate. Why not just get the heck out of the way of the good teachers — of which there are quite a few?

All this is speculation, and that’s what should worry us. Again, has anyone really investigated what it is that holds so many West Virginia children back?

How can we correct a problem if we don’t know what it is? And what if we learn that some of our people — and some of the education bureaucrats who make the rules — don’t want to change?

Are our children not important enough for us to slough off bad habits?

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.


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