Ideas on how to improve schools are plentiful. As experience with the federal No Child Left Behind flop shows, the trick is harvesting the good ones from the vast wasteland of fads, political paybacks and social experiments to which true reform often falls victim. This week, local residents can help separate some of the wheat from the chaff.
A public hearing on school reform will be held at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Wheeling Park High School. It is part of a series of eight such gatherings either held or to be convened throughout the state.
School reform initiatives come and go in West Virginia, as they do throughout the nation. Some Mountain State residents can recite a long list of fads and campaigns that sounded good at one time, but accomplished little. Remember the "open classroom" movement?
This time may be different. It has to be different if our children and grandchildren - all of them, not just the brightest and those from well-to-do families - are to have any hope of competing for bright futures.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin decided the series of public meetings should be held throughout the state to discuss findings of an education "audit." Conducted by a professional consulting firm, it produced more than 50 recommendations to improve schools.
Once the public's input is received through meetings such as that here in Wheeling, the state Board of Education, Tomblin and the West Virginia Legislature will decide how to proceed.
Meetings already held elsewhere have been helpful. For example, one in Elkins produced a suggestion schools be given more flexibility on when to hold classes. Here in the Northern Panhandle, we are well aware through a pilot project in Cameron that an extended school year can benefit students.
Recommendations at other public meetings have ranged from making more use of technology to getting more good teachers into classrooms.
Good ideas - and a dose of healthy realism about challenges faced by schools in our area - can result from the meeting here. That assumes, of course, that interested members of the public, including educators, attend.
Public participation in improving schools won't end on Tuesday, however. For reform to be successful, "buy-in" from the public as well as the education establishment is critical. And again, if West Virginia's young people and our state as a whole are to prosper, that must happen.