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The focus should be on students, not on adults

The state Board of Education's firing of state School Superintendent Jorea Marple is being spun by some into a great intrigue of evil forces bringing down a resolute champion of good.

Many people admire Marple, and agree that the board could have handled her dismissal with more finesse.

But to focus on one adult is to focus on a sideshow.

The firing of a superintendent is not a tragedy. The failure of West Virginia's expensive public schools to serve so many of the state's children is.

An audit of how West Virginia spends the vast sums it devotes to education, and how much difference it makes, produced answers that legislators and the educational establishment have ignored for too long.

On a per capita basis, West Virginia runs the eighth most expensive school system in the 50 states.

But one in four West Virginia high school students fails to graduate on time. Even with free meals as a loss leader, truancy and dropout rates are a scandal.

What we're doing isn't working for students.

The audit observed that the state has the most

heavily regulated system in the nation, with too many rules spelled out in state code. The state Department of Education is top-heavy, and adds a whole other set of requirements that cut into teachers' time.

The result: West Virginia students are below the

national average in 21 or 24 categories measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Education Week, in its Quality Counts report, gives this state a failing grade in student achievement.

When members of the state Board of Education sought to address these issues, they ran into resistance from the Department of Education.

"Many members found no sense of urgency in the

department to address some of the issues that have been outlined," said board president Wade Linger.

"While discussing concerns, we often were met with excuses and not actions. Too often we were told how things can't change instead of being offered solutions. And when current practices were challenged, we often found people being defensive."

Well, the state Department of Education is supposed to respond to the state Board of Education, not the

other way around.

That didn't happen, and the board finally clarified who reports to whom the only way it could — with a 6-2 vote to fire Marple.

The board wants to 1) develop, reward and retain great educators, 2) raise the quality of education; 3) make sure public schools lead to careers and good jobs,  4) enrich education with technology, and 5) use money as efficiently as possible.

Specifically, the board wants local school boards to be able to hire the most qualified teachers, not the ones with the most seniority. It wants better standards for evaluating the effectiveness of teachers. It wants a Teach for America program to get teachers in hard-to-serve areas. It wants teachers to be able to spend more time teaching.

And much more.

There's nothing evil about any of this. In fact, the board's insistence that the vast, clanking bureaucracy of the school system actually serve students themselves is decades overdue.

The status quo isn't working.

Let the drama of healthy changes begin.


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