The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Editorials

March 10, 2013

W.Va. education must change to produce more skilled workforce

Every child in West Virginia deserves the opportunity to receive not just a good, but a great education. Unfortunately, what we’re doing is not working.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress ranks us below the national average in 21 of 24 categories, our test scores are slipping, almost one in four high school students is not graduating on time and we have the highest percentage of young people ages 16 to 19 not engaged in school or the workforce.

This is just not acceptable. West Virginia needs an educated, skilled workforce for our businesses to thrive. Therefore, we can no longer conduct business as usual in the classroom. Education in West Virginia must change.

I asked the State Board of Education to review the statewide audit of our education system and provide their input. I also asked them to take a number of steps to address our system’s shortcomings, while encouraging the use of technology and digital learning so our students can benefit from personalized learning. I’m pleased to say, the board has agreed to study or support my requests. They are serious about providing the very best education for our kids and I’m grateful for their support.

Last month I unveiled the second, and perhaps most talked about, part of my plan. It involves changing our state code. My plan empowers our teachers by giving them input in hiring their peers — they know best what their school environment and their students need in order to achieve.

My proposal also ensures the best teachers are hired for the task at hand, taking into account seniority and other qualifications to make sure the most qualified person is standing in front of our students.

My proposal puts our kids first. It changes our accreditation system, moving it away from a test-focused system and toward factors like graduation rates and vocational and technical class completion. It will give more flexibility to local school boards to schedule the best school calendar that meets the mandatory 180 instructional days and the needs of the community.

Let me be clear on what my proposal does not do. It does not take away paid holidays from those working in our education system. It does not take away faculty senate days. And it does not require three- or four-day work weeks.

My proposal does identify students that need remedial classes before they graduate from high school. My proposal does modernize the hiring process while still recognizing the importance of experience and seniority. My proposal does put an emphasis on early childhood development. My proposal overhauls our system of professional development. And my proposal has measures designed to get teachers in areas of critical need.

The final component of my plan to raise student achievement will come in the form of executive orders which will bring additional improvements to help our children be better prepared to achieve greatness. Research has shown us that while students drop out in high school, they usually make that decision in middle school. I am going to issue an executive order to help us strengthen our middle schools so we can keep our kids in school and show them the opportunities they can have in the workforce.

I believe our children deserve the best education possible. And while education reform focused on student achievement is a considerable undertaking, our hard work today will mean greater opportunities for our children tomorrow.

— Earl Ray Tomblin is governor of West Virginia.

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