Key state legislators have said public school reform will be a top priority for their regular annual session, beginning in January. But to date, the state Board of Education has not weighed in on precisely what needs to be done. That may change this week.
In January, results of an "audit" of public education in the state were released by a private consulting firm. It was highly critical of central management of the system by the Department of Education in Charleston. Consultants recommended major cutbacks at the DOE.
State board members began discussing the audit last spring but have not yet provided the Legislature with a formal response.
Last week the board signaled its attitude may be significantly different than in the past, when some members tended to favor working through the existing system. By a 5-2 vote, the board voted to fire state school Superintendent Jorea Marple.
A replacement for Marple may be hired this week, without a formal search process.
State board President Wade Linger also has said that when the board meets Wednesday, members will discuss a response to the audit.
Linger stressed public school reform is a necessity in West Virginia. Just one statistic, the 78 percent average high school graduation rate for the state, makes that clear, he said.
Linger is right. When nearly one-fourth of children who enter public schools fail to graduate, something is badly wrong.
That affects schools throughout West Virginia. Here in the Northern Panhandle, some counties need to improve graduation rates. According to state statistics, the rates for our counties are: Brooke, 89.1 percent; Hancock, 80 percent; Marshall, 85.9 percent; Ohio, 81.4 percent; Tyler, 94.6 percent and Wetzel, 86.4 percent.
Though our counties have higher graduation rates than the state average, the numbers still are not good enough. Bear in mind they are much worse in some counties.
While more explanation of why Marple was fired and Phares is being considered as a replacement should have been provided, state board members are right to be moving swiftly toward a stance regarding the audit.
Major reforms are needed in West Virginia schools. The sooner they begin, the fewer Mountain State children will be left behind.