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Entitlement undercut education

I am glad to see the Legislature sidle up to the state's second most spectacular failure — public education. (It's related to the first most spectacular, which is poverty.)

Good people are working hard to cut through a thicket of state regulations to make it easier for schools to help children.

But let's not kid ourselves. Victory over overregulation will not be enough to help teachers win on the front lines every day.

They need more than just the freedom to spend more time teaching. They need an orderly environment in which to teach.

Nobody's talking about that.

Too many of our students do not see public education as the tremendous opportunity it is.

Would they see it differently if they were denied it?

I think so.

Years ago, I became good friends with an elderly neighbor whose father lost everything in the Depression. As a result, she lost her chance at college.

She became a great success anyway. She had nothing to apologize for.

But 70 years after she lost the chance at more education, the  sting of the loss was still fresh.  It showed when she spoke of it.

As a reporter, I met countless people like that. They craved education, would have given anything for it, and did not get as much as they wanted.

Driven to learn, they achieved greatly nonetheless.

But society has changed. It's as if Great Society guarantees of opportunity have unintentionally produced in some families a disinterest in taking advantage of it.

Many West Virginia school boards, principals, teachers and circuit judges deal with kids who have the opportunities their great-grandparents were denied, but who turn them down.

Hungry?

Society provides a free breakfast and lunch and after-school snack, plus a backpack of food for weekends and free summer feeding programs.

But we haven't created, in some children, the hunger for education that their grandparents and great-grandparents had.

How do we fix that?

Responsible adults all over West Virginia are trying to figure that out.

Community leaders are astonished to learn how many kids are tardy — sometimes by hours. Circuit judges complain of an "epidemic" of truancy.

The state Supreme Court is  working with schools and courts to hold parents accountable for school attendance, even threatening loss of parental rights.

I don't think it will work.

The entitlement mentality has obscured the appreciation of opportunity.

Public school, once looked upon as a privilege, is now looked upon as a right.

Don't obey the rules of school? You're still entitled.

Many counties operate shadow school systems. Students expelled for misbehavior are sent to "alternative" schools instead.

Take a knife to school, get really, really expelled, and the courts hold that you're still entitled to an education — even if it has to be delivered at home.

People who started school in the early decades of the last century had virtually no sense of entitlement.

Instead, they had something far more powerful — a sharp sense of opportunities and of consequences.

Some kids now lack that clarity.

Somehow, entitlement has robbed public education of the respect it should enjoy.

The reforms West Virginia is pursuing — the devolution of power to local educators — is tame stuff as reforms go. Many  reformers go further — and how they're going about it is worth thinking about.

Jay Mathews, education writer for The Washington Post, wrote recently of a five-year study of the Knowledge Is Power Program, now known as KIPP.

Mathews says it "has had more success than any other large educational organization in raising the achievement of low-income students."

The five-year study found that: "The average impact of KIPP on student achievement is positive, statistically significant, and educationally substantial."

That's what West Virginians want and kids deserve.

"Achievement was greater in KIPP schools 'where principals report a more comprehensive school-wide behavior system . . . "

It sounds like how principals ran school in the old days.

Can their successors do that today? Or have courts, stressing "rights," unintentionally undercut the authority and respect that educators once commanded?

Would consequences — get expelled three times and you're on your own — help more teachers help more students?

Something tells me they would.

Incidentally, KIPP is a charter school network free to try such things as discipline to which there is no right of appeal. Some states allow them.

Are charter schools in the West Virginia reform bill?

If not, we aren't serious.

Maurice is editorial page

editor of the Daily Mail. She may be reached at 348-4802 or hanna@dailymail.com.


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