Last Thursday on July 15 the first of many similar meetings to solicit input from educators and the general public regarding public education law in WV occurred at the Ronceverte Volunteer Fire Department. Members of the Legislative Joint Committee on Education hosted the event which was attended by a diverse group of people to include parents, teachers, retired teachers, school service personnel, and other members of the general public who are concerned about our public education system.
The Legislative Joint Committee on Education members hosting the event were myself (Delegate Longanacre), Senator Roland Roberts (Raleigh County), and Delegates Statler and Kimble (Monongahela and Harrison Counties respectively).
The purpose of the meeting was to collect information from stakeholders, in the form of both written and verbal feedback, concerning public education laws and policies and their impact on academic standards and success. I opened the meeting with prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance to our Country, and identified the rules of the meeting; chiefly that the focus will be on only those issue currently in the WV Code. I then handed out a 15 question written survey for all in attendance to complete. Included was a blank sheet of paper on which participants could write down any other issue of concern they have concerning the education of our State’s children. In this article I will disclose the results of this survey without comment.
Several years ago and before my time, a “Listening Tour” was conducted across the state by some Legislators. However, to my knowledge the goal of this was not to specifically revamp Chapter 18 of the WV Code (public school law) and when rumors began to swirl about the Legislator “coming after public schools”, the Teacher’s Union turned up the pressure on certain Legislators – presumably the one’s who’s campaigns they had funded – and any hope of a legislative azimuth check on public education was quickly scuttled. So how is the current House Concurrent Resolution 103 and its series of statewide information gathering workshops different than the previous attempt to better our State’s schools? First, this is an effort to review how certain language within State law may, or may not be, impacting academic standards and achievement. Secondly, this effort is a student first focused initiative which is designed to drill down on academic standards and how to increase learning in the areas of math, science, reading, writing, and factual history, both good and bad. Finally, the 85the Legislature is determined to take the information gleaned from these series of meetings across the state, identify any popular trends which directly impact student learning, and cross reference the data with the actual language in State Code that effects said findings. The ultimate goal would be to isolate any language in current law that may be hindering student learning and contributing to West Virginia consistently being listed as the worse public school system in the nation (according to numerous current national measures).
There were 53 people in attendance at Thursday evening’s town hall style meeting. Of these, 49 turned in a written survey, some were fully completed surveys while some were only partially completed. Regarding the sixteen-question survey, I will not attempt to analyze the results in this article and will simply leave that to you, the readers.
1. Do you work in a public school system in WV? Yes: 49%, No: 43%, No Answer (NA) 8%.
2. Should education standards be set by the State Department of Education (DOE) or by the people’s representatives in State Congress (the Legislature)? Author’s Note: In retrospect this question should have stated DOE/State BOE/County BOE instead of simply “DOE”. Educators: DOE 75%, Legislature 8%, No Answer (NA) 17%. Non-Educators: DOE 33%, Legislatures 48%, NA 19%.
3. Should education standards be enforced by the DOE or by the Legislature? Author’s Note: In retrospect this question should have stated DOE/State BOE/County BOE instead of simply “DOE”. Educators: DOE 79%, Legislature 4%, NA 17%. Non-Educators: DOE 52%, Legislature 38%, NA 10%.
4. Generally, is negative speak about public education perception or reality? Author’s Note: In retrospect this question should have stated Accurate or Inaccurate instead of “perception or reality”. Educators: Perception 58%, Reality 21%, NA 21%. Non-Educators: Perception 14%, Reality 67%, NA 19%.
5. Many nationwide measures list WV at 50th in the nation in public Ed. Are these assessments accurate or inaccurate? Educators: Accurate 25%, Inaccurate 50%, NA 25%. Non-Educators: Accurate 52%, Inaccurate 19%, NA 29%.
6. Regarding your answer to question number five, why or why not? (Various Answers Rendered).
7. Generally, are current Ed policies helping or hindering education in WV? Educators: helping 17%, hindering 33%, NA 50%. Non-Educators: helping 5%, hindering 62%, NA 33%.
8. Generally, are academic standards where they need to be? Educators: Yes 29%, No 63%, NA 8%. Non-Educators: Yes 10%, No 76%, NA 14%.
9. Should there be more emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects? Educators: Yes 54%, No 33%, NA 13%. Non-Educators: Yes 81%, No 0%, NA 19%.
10. Do you believe that public school disciplinary policy, as applied to students, is where it needs to be? Educators: Yes 25%, No 67%, NA 8%. Non-Educators: Yes 0%, No 62%, NA 38%.
11. Do you believe that public school disciplinary policy, as applied to students, must be improved and enforced? Educators: Yes 67%, No 8%, NA 25%. Non-Educators: Yes 71%, No 0%, NA 29%.
12. During the 2019-2020 school year, WV saw a positive increase to 91.2% in graduation rate. Should graduation rate be the measure by which we assess academic success? Author’s Note: In retrospect this question should have stated is funding tied to graduation rate and, if so, is graduation rate an accurate measure of student learning and academic achievement? Educators: Yes 21%, No 54%, NA 25%. Non-Educators: Yes 5%, No 86%, NA 9%.
13. Regarding your answer to question number twelve, why or why not? (Various Answers Rendered).
14. Should reading, writing, and arithmetic take priority over other subjects? Educators: Yes 83%, No 13%, NA 4%. Non-Educators: Yes 81%, No 0%, NA 19%.
15. Do you believe there should be more student academic accountability? Educators: Yes 70%, No 17%, NA 13%. Non-Educators: Yes 81%, No 0%, NA 19%.
16. Is there a specific county/state policy or law that you believe should be better enforced or altogether repealed? If so, which one and why? (Various Answers Rendered).
Various random answers derived from the written survey are as follows, are in no specific order, may or may not be specific to current law and/or education policy, and were provided on a separate page without respondents providing the title “Educator” or “Non-Educator”.
“More and more is being put onto educators across the State.” “Internet must be addressed.” “This group you represent is an informal workgroup of the Joint Committee on Education. You should be honest about that, not representing yourself as something else.” “The Legislature should take action to prevent 1619 Projects, Lincoln Projects, and CRT (Critical Race Theory) from being taught in WV schools.” “Keep kids in the classroom 180 FULL DAYS.” “Eliminate [the] Committee which autonomously promulgates rules and regulations.” “I would like to see more parent involvement and more attention given to parent suggestions.” “Put textbooks back in the hands of students.” “Teachers should not be afraid to confront their students.” “Many remote students did no school work.” “Cameras need to be in the classroom. This would improve many things.” “I feel very disrespected by the Legislature.” “Still concerned about what school districts are doing about drugs in school system.” “I understand CRT is not taught in grade school or middle school but is being talked about in most high schools. Unions seem to be pro-CRT.” “Class sizes are [too] large. Students are falling behind due to overcrowding and behaviors.” “Limit computer usage and increase classroom instruction back to 190 days per year.” “The power of unions [are] hindering education.” “Too much focus on social issues.” “Congratulations on passing what is essentially the voucher system for some state funds to go with the student.” “I think the legislature is on the right track to allow parents to get public funds to help pay for alternative schools – all WV students/parents should have school choice!”
“Too many empty [school] busses.” “I am a teacher employed by Greenbrier County Schools. I work hard. I do my job. To my knowledge, if I choose to not call a transgender student what he/she wants me to call him/her, I could be fired. I will not encourage confused students towards this lifestyle.” “Legislators are not educated enough to understand.” “What does [school choice] have to do with making public schools better?” “If a student performs poorly academically then he/she should not be allowed to graduate “just because”. Students should have a more intrinsic input in [their] education. This includes middle school values.” To the question is graduation rates a good measure of academic success: “Test scores, test scores, test scores, should be the measure of [student learning], not graduation rates.” “National measures of the best and worse school systems in America are due to inadequate funding or unfunded mandates.” “Negative speak of WV being the worse school system in the nation is inaccurate, made up, fake news.” “[Negative talk about WV education] is only reality because thanks to you, you are making it this way.” “As long as we continue lowering [academic] standards for everyone involved, then graduation rate becomes meaningless.” “How can we ever fix 50 years of bad law written, not for students, but to protect the unions by politicians funded by the unions?” “The problems with [public school] education are due to the Legislature supporting Charter schools and public funding for them.”
There are many more pages of comments but I think this is a good rendering for now. Take from this survey what you will. All I will say at this point is that, depending on who you are, this may be a very complex problem we are faced with or perhaps there is no problem at all. Write a letter to the editor and let your friends and neighbors know what you think on the matter.
Delegate, 42nd District, WV House