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Tomblin’s education package matters

The West Virginia Legislature's passage Friday of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's comprehensive education reform bill is significant for several reasons.

As has been pointed out many times, it empowers schools to build their teaching teams with the most qualified applicants, not just the people with the most seniority. For the first time, teachers will be part of the hiring process.

The legislation requires 180 days of instruction.

Educators are quick to point out that it's the quality of instruction that's critical, not the quantity.

That's true, but time in the classroom is still important, and the current calendar makes it extremely difficult to meet the 180.

The bill calls for greater emphasis on reading at grade level through the third grade and creates career paths starting in middle school for students more interested in a job skill or a technical degree at a community college.

But beyond the critical structural changes, there is also an overriding message that's detailed and implied in the bill: The state Board of Education and the local county school systems are in charge of delivering a quality product.

That should be a given. However, over time the state board ceded its control to the Department of Education bureaucracy and the Legislature.

Local school boards have been hamstrung by a top-heavy system where work guidelines were detailed in state law, limiting flexibility.

Passage of the reform bill is a critical first step, but now the real work begins.

A less-talked-about aspect of the bill authorizes the state board to devise a new accreditation process for public schools.

That's badly needed. The current system is a mishmash of programs that focuses primarily on the lowest performing schools.

Now the board must devise a clearer set of standards for all schools with a greater focus on improving student performance. Schools will be graded on outcomes so the public will know which schools are doing well and which ones need improvement.

The overall goal of the legislation is simple: Empower schools to hire the most qualified teachers and hold schools accountable for the results.

When schools don't measure up, find out why and fix it. When they do, provide rewards and incentives.

Still, this is only a first step in a long road back for public education.

There are many more problems, including teacher pay, the impact of poverty and dysfunctional families on a child's ability to learn, truancy and chronic absenteeism, just to name a few.

These conditions make it a steep climb to provide a thorough and efficient education to all the state's children.

The old model was failing to meet the challenges. The education reform bill represents a critical and long overdue course change.

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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