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Legislators should pass the school reform bill

As state Senate President Jeff Kessler pointed out to Mannix Porterfield of the Register-Herald in Beckley, the state has devoted 60 percent to 65 percent of its general revenue budget to education for 30 years.

But public education hasn't produced results. Test scores are low, colleges complain that high school graduates need remedial classes, and employers warn that they can't find the people they desperately need.

A study found that much of the problem lies with the way the state has managed education - through micro-legislation, with a top-heavy bureaucracy based in Charleston controlling virtually everything school boards, principals and teachers do.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin distilled some of the observations into a 179-page bill introduced in the Senate on Monday. Public policy director Hallie Mason said the package would remove obstacles imposed by the state and give local educators the flexibility they need to produce results.

The bill would:

* End the overemphasis on seniority and give principals and faculty senates more latitude in hiring.

* Let West Virginia schools hire recent graduates who don't have teaching degrees - but have been vetted by the Teach for America program - to fill vacancies in struggling schools.

* Require all elementary-level teachers to have training in teaching reading - a foundational skill that makes or breaks kids by the third grade.

* Better engage middle-school students.

* Improve vocational opportunities.

* Let counties tailor calendars to their areas' needs.

* Require all counties to offer full-day preschool for 4-year-olds. That would help many families give their children a good start. (It would also significantly enhance job security in counties with falling enrollment.)

Judy Hale, president of the West Virginia Federation of Teachers, called the governor's bill "the ugliest bill I've seen in 30 years." Dale Lee of the West Virginia Education Association lamented "more punitive actions aimed at teachers."

This is not true. Nobody blames teachers for ineffective schools. They are prisoners of the system also.

Teachers unions, working through the Legislature, have essentially written public school policy for the same 30 years that Kessler used as his frame of reference. Those policies simply have not worked.

Of course change is scary. But scarier than failing thousands of students and driving teachers crazy?

Not even close.

Failure to insist on change is the most dangerous thing senators and delegates could do at this point.


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