THE Education Alliance brought some successful reformers to Charleston this week to discuss public education in West Virginia.
The state-based nonprofit attracted a crowd of 225 business, community and education leaders to Charleston for the program: "Excellence in Education, It's Everyone's Business."
One speaker was Mary Laura Bragg, director of policy for the Foundation for Excellence in Education and a former Florida public school teacher, who spoke of that state's program under new Gov. Jeb Bush in 1999 to improve low education rankings.
"The decision was made to do away with the old and to think about education in a totally different way and to base all our education policies on the idea that all children can learn," Bragg said. "Every policy was tied to accountability in some way so that students were the focus of all of our reforms."
Did you catch that? "Do away with the old."
"Students were the focus of all of our reforms."
One of the things that Florida did away with was teacher tenure. It developed a new, comprehensive way to evaluate teachers. While that change might not be popular with the West Virginia teachers' unions, remember that "students must be the focus."
Good teachers will support good changes to education.
Putting more focus on the students and making sure teachers, principals and school systems were accountable took Florida from one of the worst education systems in the country to one of the best.
"After eight years of consecutive decline before these reforms, we've seen a 20 percent increase in kids graduating and we've cut our dropout rate in half," Bragg said.
West Virginia Kids Count has reported that more than seven in 10 West Virginia students are not reading proficiently at the end of third grade. Reading proficiency is a critical predictor of future success.
Florida was able to make changes to improve the reading ability of third graders, and hence, the success rates of students in later grades. West Virginia can do so too.
The Legislature passed an education reform package in 2013, albeit significantly watered down from the recommendations of the 2012 education efficiency audit.
Educators, legislators and the public should not be content to stop there. Education reform needs to continue each year. Taking in ideas from successful states is a good place to start.