Official says year-round school is top priority
Making it easier for counties to move to the year-round calendar is a top priority of the state Board of Education, the board's president told a panel of lawmakers.
Wade Linger discussed the board's response to an audit of the state school system Monday morning with members of a legislative work group studying the audit. Although the board has not officially agreed on a list of priorities, Linger said legislators and the public expect answers.
"What's happening is the ball keeps rolling down the field here, and time after time I'm in front of groups . . . and they're asking, 'What does the board think?' and 'What are the priorities?' and so forth," Linger said Monday afternoon in a phone interview.
The year-round calendar, also referred to as the balanced calendar, tops the board's priority list right now. The calendar shifts the days when students attend school, moving away from the traditional fall-to-spring schedule.
With the balanced calendar, students attend school for nine weeks at a time and then are off for at least three weeks. During the breaks, students can receive tutoring or other educational help as needed, Linger said. The calendar cuts the summer break from 10 weeks to four or five, but it does not increase the number of instructional days.
The board is not mandating every county adopt the system, Linger said. Instead, it wants every county at least to consider the move, and it wants to make that move easier.
House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, formed the work group. In doing so Thompson asked for the legislators to serve as resources for others who might have questions.
Released in January 2012, the audit considered more than 100 measures that could save the state money and help the state Department of Education operate more efficiently.
Representatives from teachers and service personnel unions also attended Monday's meeting.
The state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers is not necessarily for or against the balanced calendar, president-elect Christine Campbell said. She wants to see proof that it works.
The board's other tentative top priorities are moving more control to the local level, combining workplace development with education, revising the school accreditation system, looking at higher education accountability, developing performance incentives for schools and developing a true teacher effectiveness measure, Linger said.
Linger said the current method of delivering education in West Virginia does not work.
Right now, a group of students generally sits in the same room with a teacher for a year, and then advances to the next grade. This "factory model" is not as effective as an "individualized learning plan," he said.
"With the technology that we have now and the way we are doing things, there's no reason to make these (students) wait because these are a little slower and frustrate these and move them along when they're not really ready," Linger told the legislative work group.
"We're close to a situation where everybody's successful because you don't move ahead until you succeed," he said.
That's a great idea in theory, Campbell said, but is much harder to implement with different personalities and learning levels on a day-to-day basis. She also thought it would take more teachers and money to make that happen effectively.
For individual learning, the key is making the education more relevant, she said. A great way to do that is through project-based learning, in her opinion. That means more control for teachers and administrators and less emphasis on standardized tests, she said.
There are differences between the board, the AFT and other teachers' unions and legislators as to the best way to address the audit recommendations. But all three parties thought Monday's meeting was a step forward.
"It didn't seem like the song and dance we've been hearing as far as getting more specific, which I think is a good thing," Campbell said.
There has been little legislative action as a result of the audit since it was released, but lawmakers appear ready to rely on it heavily during the upcoming legislative session. Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, group chairman, was happy with the progress.
"I think everyone is taking this seriously," Perry said after the meeting.
Perry said the work group is not necessarily planning any legislation of its own.
Most of the work group's members were not part of last year's House Education Committee. Linger thought that mix spurred better discussion.
Delegate Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, is one of the members not on the education committee. He said the meeting helped him better understand issues.
"It's something that we have to act on right now," Nelson said of education reform. "I would, in my spot, hope that (the work group) can expedite any improvements in education."
The group meets again next week. The legislative session reconvenes Feb. 13.