Union officials question audit response
Officials from two West Virginia teachers unions think the state Board of Education's response to the education efficiency audit is confusing.
Judy Hale, head of the West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said ideas expressed in the document sound "really grandiose and great" but she thinks the report lacks details about how the board or anyone else would accomplish those ideas.
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, doesn't understand how the board report differs from ideas suggested by recently fired Superintendent Jorea Marple.
In January, nonprofit Public Works released the findings of its audit of the state education system. The document lists more than 50 recommendations Public Works believes could help the state save money and deliver education more efficiently and effectively.
In a special meeting last week, board members approved their response to the audit. They spent nearly five hours discussing the 136-page report during the meeting; Linger wanted the board to approve the report before presenting it Tuesday to a legislative committee.
Lee attended the special meeting, sitting in the front of spectators while flipping through the board's response. He also made it to the tail end of a meeting two weeks ago, where the board voted to fire Marple. The move was not listed on the meeting's agenda and caused an immediate stir in the state's education community. Lee and Hale were some of the first to oppose the decision.
In a phone interview this week, Lee said he needed to go through the board's audit response more thoroughly. At first glance, however, he said he could immediately see traces of Marple's work.
"I was kind of surprised at many of the things that they had in their response had already been initiated by Dr. Marple," Lee said. "To say that they wanted to go in a different direction, and then have their responses going in the same direction she was taking them. . ." he trailed off.
Lee liked several aspects of the board's response.
The audit called for the state to make student achievement the most dominant factor in teacher evaluations, a move Lee and Hale both opposed. The board recommended continuing to use the teacher evaluation system currently being piloted in the state and wait to look at the data from the program before changing it.
That evaluation system addresses what makes an effective teacher, in Hale's opinion. However, the board recommends the creation of a committee that would develop the West Virginia Teacher Effectiveness Measure. Defining "effectiveness" would be the committee's main goal; Hale thinks that was already accomplished by a state Department of Education teacher evaluation task force.
"I'm not sure Mr. Linger or the board has read that document yet," Hale said, adding that two schools in every county are piloting the program this year.
"We don't have a lot of data on it yet, but we do have some very specific definitions of what makes a good or bad teacher," she continued.
Linger did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Lee said the "proof would be in the pudding" for the teacher effectiveness measure. Different learning styles among students makes pinning down a precise definition for effectiveness challenging, Lee said.
Both Lee and Hale also mentioned the board's recommendations on schools moving to a balanced, or year-round, calendar. A portion of the audit called for the state to mandate that counties provide students with 180 days of instruction, a measure opposed by the unions. In its response to this audit recommendation, the board instead took the chance to voice its support for schools moving to a balanced calendar.
The board can't force any school to move to a balanced calendar, Hale said, adding that the law would need to change for such an initiative to take place. Lee said communities have to buy in to the switch before it can be considered viable.
The AFT will issue an official response to the board's report some time soon, Hale said.
The WVEA will wrap up a series of forums on the audit Friday.
Lee said the board's response could add to the discussions at the two remaining forums but the union will use its own report from its own forums to create its agenda for the upcoming legislative session.