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The state school board is serious about reform

At last, West Virginia has a starting point for public education reform. On Wednesday, the state Board of Education approved its long-awaited response to the independent audit of our public school system.

It's evident that reform-minded members of the board have taken their job seriously.

The board resisted the temptation to cobble together inconsequential pap that would have protected the status quo and instead issued a response that is thorough, thoughtful and specific.

The board's call to action includes:

* Developing, rewarding and retaining great educators;

* Raising educational quality;

* Aligning education to workforce needs and careers;

* Empowering learning through technology and

* Making public education more efficient.

The board went directly to the heart of the cumbersome education bureaucracy, challenging overly restrictive rules and regulations, particularly with respect to personnel issues, that have been written into state law over the years.

For example, the board proposes changing the code to allow school boards to hire "the most qualified person to fill professional vacancies," rather than the person who has the most seniority.

That's common sense for most of the working world, and it should be welcome news to local school boards that find themselves hamstrung because so much control is concentrated in Charleston.

Additionally, the board recommends creating a method to measure teacher effectiveness.  That measurement can then be used to help determine pay, tenure, promotion and dismissal.

That suggestion alone, which makes up only a small part of the board's response, will trigger a passionate debate, especially since teacher unions are skeptical of systems to evaluate teachers.

The goal of the board here is not to throw a scare into teachers or threaten jobs, but rather to empower and reward them. Great teachers should not have to give up the classroom and become an administrator to make more money or be rewarded for excellence.

The board also believes the school system can make better use of technology to improve public education.

Connected students are no longer confined to the hours they spend in the classroom or a particular teacher; instead they can be wired to distance learning 24/7.

The board also gets behind the concept of a balanced calendar (year-round school).

That would be a welcome alternative to the current outdated model, which essentially gives students three months off from learning and allows them to forget what they were just taught.

Interestingly, the board did not embrace the audit's suggestions for how the school system could save up to $90 million a year. It's evident that the reformers are more interested in directing money toward areas that will make the school system more effective, not just slashing dollars.

The board titled its response "From Audit to Action."

It is, fact, a badly needed clarion call for West Virginia's public education system.

So let's get started.

Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The show can be heard locally on WCHS 580 AM.


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