WEST VIRGINIA SECONDARY EDUCATION: ; K-12 Audit Results Released; Report: Merit-Based Pay, Distance Learning among Suggestions
Messina, Lawrence, The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV)
A sweeping review of West Virginia's public schools released Friday offers scores of recommendations its authors say can improve lagging student performance and save about $70 million a year statewide.
From a voluntary merit-pay system for teachers and reduced workloads for new educators to seizing on distance-learning technology and penalizing counties that fail to provide at least 180 days of instruction annually, the audit scrutinizes the state's education system from practically every angle.
"The main thrust of this review is to make the West Virginia educational system more efficient, from top to bottom, so that tax dollars can be better spent educating our children," the report from the consulting firms Public Works LLC and MGT said.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin commissioned the review last year. With a $275,000 price tag, it focused on relevant state-level departments, as well as one of the state's eight Regional Education Service Agencies and the Harrison, Taylor and Wyoming county school systems.
"From the classroom to the state school board, this assessment shows us we have room for improvement," Tomblin said in a statement. "For the future of our children and our state, we must [build] a better learning and teaching environment in our classrooms and reduce administrative redundancies, thereby directing financial savings back into the classroom."
The review concluded that West Virginia has perhaps the most tightly regulated education system in the country. State laws control many details of school operations, allowing for little flexibility, the review found. The Department of Education, while led by a board whose members are appointed by the governor, is independent of the executive and legislative branches under the West Virginia Constitution.
"We have encountered no other state that insulates its education system so much from gubernatorial - or voter - control; restricts local initiative so much on the part of districts, . . . principals, and teachers; and vests so much authority for education at the state level," Friday's report said.
While that might be the choice of West Virginia's citizens, the report continues, "it runs counter to most of the concern and thinking in educational reform today that individual initiative and accountability should be encouraged, while responsibility for education must ultimately come to a single point at the top of the pyramid."
The audit also ranked West Virginia second for the number of state-level staff when compared to student populations. Even when narrowing the focus to states with similar student populations or rural terrain, the state had among the lowest ratios of bureaucrats to students.
"In recent years, [the Department of Education] in fact has demonstrated an ability modestly to reduce overall departmental staffing levels through attrition," the report said. "At the very same time, however, it has increased its number of high-level positions."
About 60 of the review's recommendations would trim and reorganize that bureaucracy. While calling for fewer department employees, it also recommends hiring architects and engineers to replace contractors. …