The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 7, 2013

Education reform bill attacked as 'less-than-serious effort'

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — American Federation of Teachers President Judy Hale attacked Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s education package Wednesday as a less-than-serious effort to raise academic standards in West Virginia schools.

Hale was joined by two other AFT officials in a news conference at the Capitol, a day before the Senate Education Committee prepared to put its final touches on SB359.

While Hale found some aspects of Tomblin’s proposal acceptable, much of it isn’t to her organization, which represents 16,500 education employees in the state.

Particularly galling to the AFT are the proposed use of Teach For America to plug holes in certain regions where certain teaching fields are vacant, the disparity in the pay scale among teachers and county superintendents and the ability of principals to hire whomever they see fit, giving rise to nepotism, Hale said.

“You can’t raise academic standards by lowering teacher standards,” Hale said.

“You can’t downsize the education bureaucracy by upsizing the Regional Education Service Agencies.”

Hale applauded Tomblin’s call for a loan forgiveness plank for teachers and to help instructors get nationally certified, as well a plan to get children reading at grade level by the third year.

But once those proposals are considered, she said, the Senate bill “takes a real nosedive.’

Hale said the news media, and the general public, have been misled into thinking that seniority is the overriding factor in hiring, when in fact, seven separate criteria are in existing practice.

Under Tomblin’s proposal, which she scorned as “the friends and family plan,” county boards could post, and repost, jobs until the candidates they desire are attracted.

What this would do is expose counties to “cash in on political favors,” she charged, pointing to rampant nepotism that figured in a state takeover of the Lincoln County system.

Hale said SB359 also permits teachers to be transferred any day, any time, anywhere in a school year, devoid of any hearing or notice — totally ignoring due process.

“This can have a terrible negative effect on our students,” she said.

“For many students, the teacher is the only stable and loving adult that they can count on. What do you think will happen to their academic performance when one day this teacher has been arbitrarily transferred to another building?”

Another source of contention is the use of Teach For America teachers.

Hale said unqualified instructors may have a bachelor’s degree and none in education but could move into a third grade classroom, for example, with a degree in political science.

And, she said, in most states, Teach For America must be paid $10,000 for the use of its teachers.

“The AFT will never agree to this,” she said.

“We will never agree to lower standards for our profession. We know that hurts children.”

Hale said a more preferable approach to filling high needs regions is to use the Teacher in Residence concept which accepts teachers who have performed all their work save student teaching.

“Isn’t it much better to use home-grown, West Virginia teachers to grow our own than it is to bring in out-of-state people like Teach For America that we have to pay money to their organization in order to use those teachers who are not certified in field, who have little or no commitment to the community and according to their own records, they move on to somewhere else?” she asked.

“Most of the Teach For America teachers, and I use that word loosely, are building a resume. We do not think they should be able to do this at the expense of our students.”

Hale provided graphs that showed student enrollment has risen about 1 percent between 2001 and 2012, but the number of teachers has fallen by 1,206, and that the average pay for them is $45,452.66, while county superintendents stands at $110,579.60.

“It is difficult to believe that SB359 is a serious attempt to reform education and put our students first, when these shocking audit findings regarding administrative top heaviness are completely ignored,” she said.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com