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Of course we should do the opposite

To the surprise of no one, school union officials hate the education reform proposal now before the Legislature.  

Judy Hale, president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, branded the reform as unscientific.

"It almost looks like they looked at the research for the last 20 years and said, 'OK, let's just ignore that and do the opposite'," Hale told the Daily Mail's Dave Boucher.

I hope what she says is true, because when I look at the last 20 years of actual results - not academic research - doing the opposite makes sense.

What we are doing now is not working.

Twenty years ago, Gov. Gaston Caperton signed a budget that gave $1.5 billion to education.

That's $2.4 billion in today's dollars, according to the Consumer Price Index.

Now school spending in West Virginia tops $3 billion.

That means that adjusted for inflation, West Virginians have increased spending on schools by 25 percent - despite a steady decline in enrollment.

That does not count the $5 billion in teacher retirement obligations hanging over the heads of taxpayers.

Nor does that count the more than $2 billion spent by the School Building Authority on new schools and improvements since 1989.

But we're still not getting a spark in student achievement.

More money is not the answer.

West Virginia is the second poorest state in the union and yet it exceeds the national average in spending per student.

The results do not match that investment.

The state ranks 46th in the percentage of students who actually pass an Advanced Placement test for college credit, according to the AP Report to the Nation.

Only 9.8 percent of West Virginia students passed, which is half the national average.

The results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test are even more depressing.

Fourth-graders rank 43rd in reading and 45th in math.

Eighth-graders rank 45th in reading and 47th in math.

Research showed we could improve with smaller classes, new schools, and free school lunches and breakfasts.

Results have shown otherwise.

The results fail to match the research because all the research is done by the education industry, which is hardly objective.

Does anyone seriously think you can get a doctorate in education with a dissertation that destroys the myth that more money means better schools?

I look at the money we spend and I look at the results and I think of Branch Rickey's reply to Ralph Kiner when Kiner asked for a raise after leading the league in home runs.

"We finished last with you," Rickey told Kiner. "We can finish last without you."

A few months later, Rickey dumped Kiner and his salary by trading him to the Chicago Cubs.

Kiner was no more to blame for his team's poor showing than teachers are for the failure of the schools.

Parents are. The results at Kenna Elementary in South Hills are world class. The school systems in Monongalia, Putnam and Ohio counties produce great graduates.

And then there is McDowell County.

Money is not the problem.

Spending per student is about the same county-by-county. West Virginia has the most equitable system of disbursement of school dollars among its districts outside of Hawaii, which only has one district.

In fact, the more poverty, the more money a school gets from the federal government under Title I, which over the last 47 years has disbursed trillions of dollars to failing schools - which continue to fail.

Clearly, public schools in West Virginia need a change.

The question of this legislative session is do unions have the clout to stop progress?

Surber's email is donsurber@dailymail.com.

 


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