Out crept a mouse
“The mountains were said to be in labor and uttered most dreadful groans. People came together far and near to see what birth would be produced; and, after they waited a great while in expectation, out crept a Mouse.” — Aesop’s Fables
Assume that the “expectation” was over a year’s wait to see what “birth” the Education Audit might produce. “Out crept a mouse” on March 22 when the Legislature adopted Senate Bill 359, the education bill — hardly a monumental deliverance or a turning point in the State’s history, as some have described it.
The purpose of this article is to describe the long-awaited executive and legislative responses to the recommendations made in the education audit as revealed in SB359. (In doing so, I do not express or imply a personal opinion on any of the recommendations or on whether more or less of them should have been addressed in the legislation.)
First, a word of caution. Don’t be misled into believing that because SB359 consists of over 200 pages, it must massively address deficiencies in the public school system that are holding back improved student achievement. If that were the goal of the Legislature—and I can think of no other that should merit so much of its attention—it deserves, in my opinion, no notable praise.
SB359 is best described as a hasty, typical patching of an antiquated student-learning model as the Legislature is prone to do year after year without improvement in student achievement on global and national assessments.
The Legislature in this bill ignored or rejected far, far more of the recommendations of the Education Audit than it addressed. These are only some of them:
SB359 did not accept many, many more of the audit’s recommendations not here identified.
Some of the audit’s recommendations that were addressed or implemented as made or as modified in S.B. 359 include: providing for state-level leadership on professional development; reducing the number of positions in the Department of Education; mandating 180 days of instructional time and aligning teacher and support personnel work calendars — including the abolishment of the 43-week limit — diminishing the role of seniority in filling vacancies in professional positions of employment and providing for loans and scholarships for classroom teachers. Seniority remains the key factor in determining the order of dismissal when the number of teachers employed is reduced; in the filling of positions in a consolidation or merger of schools and in inter-county transfer arrangements.
The education audit emphasizes what it says national research and best practice clearly show: that the best predictor of student achievement is effective teachers and that the best predictor of teacher effectiveness is not “a teacher’s route to certification, advanced degrees or experience.”
SB359 addresses none of the important policy areas that impact the teaching profession for which the National Council on Teacher Quality gave the state a D — except perhaps in the longer term and only indirectly: deleting possible qualification barriers to attracting the best possible person, based on a nationwide search, to become the state superintendent of schools.
Filling the superintendent’s position with an exemplary candidate, who is knowledgeable and a critical thinker about school system innovations the world over, offers, in my opinion, the state’s best hope for providing much-needed bold, comprehensive and informed leadership in reforming the public school system and for escaping our parochial, narrow-minded, largely uninformed mentality in public school matters.
What should the state be willing to pay a really outstanding prospect for superintendent of schools, he/she being the chief school officer of the state? I suggest $350,000 to 400,000 annually. Outrageous? Consider that the annual pay of the head basketball coach at West Virginia University is $3,000,000 and that of the head football coach is $2,380,000, of which $250,000 is base pay for each. If we are willing to pay that much to be entertained, ought we not be willing to pay the person in charge of educating our children, the state superintendent of schools, at least more than the base pay of the coaches?
— Charles McElwee is a Charleston lawyer
with the firm Robinson & McElwee.
Reach him at CMcElwee@outlook.com.