The West Virginia Department of Education has issued a report following a series of eight public forums and an online survey to determine what it will recommend for a proposed special session of the Legislature that has targeted education reform.
The report recommends a pay raise for all school employees, increasing funding for social emotional supports with local flexibility and strengthening teachers' skills in shortage areas, with an initial focus on math.
These meetings were dominated by people who are part of the state's education establishment, so it was no surprise that the report recommends providing more money for that establishment - more money for teachers and more counselors and other people to help children deal with problems at home.
You'll get no argument about that here.Teachers and others have been promised pay raises that the Legislature refused to fund. That's inexcusable.
There is much that the report got right, but it missed the mark in some parts.
First, what it got right: Too many children come to school handicapped by a less-than-desirable home life. It's common knowledge that children who live in affluent homes free of drugs and crime do better in school, particularly elementary school, than those who don't. With West Virginia being a lower-income state where too many households are fighting addiction problems, children start off at a disadvantage.
Schools cannot raise income levels, but they can be the gateway for children to begin receiving help for various problems they face at home. If hiring more counselors is part of the solution, then the Legislature should consider funding them. This assumes the additional money for teachers, counselors and others is targeted at the areas of greatest need rather than spread evenly across the state with no connection to need or accountability.
Now, where the report misses the mark: Even if all children in a given school come from a nurturing home that encourages education, are West Virginia's schools really providing the type of education and learning opportunities children need in the 21st century? It's hard to say.
People who attended school a generation or two ago often complain that their children are not learning the same things they learned. The curriculum is not as rigorous. They say discipline is not as strict as it once was. Consolidated schools have made education a commodity instead of a high-value item. When public high school graduates enter higher education, they find themselves unprepared for what is expected of them.
On the other hand, school buildings themselves are much better and the technology available to students is beyond what their grandparents ever dreamed of having. Plus schools, teachers, counselors and administrators are expected to deal with problems that once were considered private matters best handled at home.
Pay raises, educational service accounts, charter schools and other matters handled at the Legislature may nibble at these perceptions and concerns, but they don't address the basic fact that parents see that something needs to be improved in the state's public education system. Too much of the education debate in West Virginia addresses the needs of the system more than the needs of its students.
Charter schools are worth trying on a limited basis. Everything else the Legislature is talking about won't address the basic question of what schools in West Virginia really need - how they need to be different - if our children are to attend schools that meet their needs. Everything else is just tinkering that sounds good in 2019 but probably won't make much of a difference in 2029.