Our Children Deserve World-Class Educations
Providing a world-class education for our children is a moral responsibility. A world-class education system is the single-most important factor for a bright future of economic development and high-paying jobs.
All four of my grandparents were raised during The Great Depression and knew hardships unimaginable to many of us today. They knew that hard work and a great education were the keys to success, and they pushed their children — my father and mother — to always strive to better their lot in life.
Both of my parents went to college, earned advanced degrees, and entered a profession of service by becoming public school teachers. And following the lead of their parents, they encouraged me to work hard, earn a great education, and strive for the best.
And now, as a parent myself, I want my child to have every opportunity I did — and even more. This innately human drive is what causes remarkable advancements in our society.
The time has come for an honest and candid discussion about West Virginia’s public education system.
According to the National Assessment of Education Progress, commonly referred to as “NAEP,” over three out of four of our 8th grade students in West Virginia are not considered proficient in mathematics. That ranks West Virginia 46th in the nation.
Those same NAEP results show that only 28 percent of our 8th graders are proficient in reading — ranking West Virginia 45th in the nation.
In our combined SAT scores, West Virginia students collectively score a 999, ranking 49th in the nation.
If you take a look at West Virginia’s own metrics — the Balanced Scorecard, fewer than 1 percent of our high schools “meet the standard” for math performance, and fewer than 10 percent of West Virginia high schools “meet the standard” for English Language Arts.
These results are indefensible. The status quo is clearly not working.
Let me be clear — I do not place the blame for these results on the teachers. I grew up in a family of teachers. I know how their hands are tied and they are limited in their ability to innovate and find the best ways to educate their students. They must also deal with a multitude of issues that children are facing outside of school.
It is West Virginia’s education system — which was identified by an independent audit as being one of the most centralized and insulated in the nation — that is not serving our students and teachers well.
The members of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce — who are located in all 55 counties and employ over half of West Virginia’s workforce — have consistently told us that improving education outcomes in West Virginia is the single most important thing that can be done to improve economic development and job creation in our state.
Our members live and work in West Virginia. They send their children to our schools, support improvements for the public good, and work to build a brighter tomorrow. Every day they invest in the state we all love.
The West Virginia Legislature is taking a bold step forward to address many of these issues. Senate Bill 451, which is a comprehensive education reform bill, makes several important changes which will help improve public education in West Virginia.
SB 451 provides another significant pay raise for teachers and school service personnel that continues making salaries competitive with other states. I hope that the near future allows even more.
The bill also empowers counties and county school boards to recognize regional economic factors and increase teacher pay to be more competitive.
Most teachers must make out-of-pocket purchases for their classrooms and students, and SB 451 provides a significant tax credit to help reimburse teachers for those personal expenses.
Importantly, this bill gives parents and students more options and choices. Enrolling in a public school outside of the district in which you live will no longer be a bureaucratic nightmare.
And West Virginia will no longer be an outlier and will finally join 44 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing the creation of public charter schools. These are not private, for-profit schools.
Public charter schools are public schools that are free from many state and county regulations in exchange for being held accountable. They are open to all students and may not cherry-pick which students they want.
Both President Donald Trump and Barack Obama, on what may be the only issue they agree, are on record in support of public charter schools. These schools will allow innovation and an ability to see what may work better for the rest of our school system.
I applaud the courage and leadership of many in the West Virginia Legislature for moving forward to make important reforms to West Virginia’s public education system. As I said earlier, providing a world-class education is a moral imperative — and our children deserve nothing less.
Brian Dayton is the director of research and member communications at the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce. He is a native of Moundsville.