- Commission narrows recommendations for more education reform
- State officials try to allay concerns about Common Core
- Boards put extra money into salaries
- West Virginia works to get more students through college
- Employee groups want more changes in education system
- Educators and Legislators eagerly await longitudinal data system
- Some teachers want another chance to change pension plans
- PEIA premiums will remain the same
- Commission narrows recommendations for more education reform
- State officials try to allay concerns about Common Core
- Boards put extra money into salaries
- West Virginia works to get more students through college
- Employee groups want more changes in education system
- Educators and Legislators eagerly await longitudinal data system
- Some teachers want another chance to change pension plans
- PEIA premiums will remain the same
“Journalism is literature in a hurry.” – Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), British poet and cultural critic.
Commission prepares to make recommendations on changes for school districts
By Jim Wallace
The Commission on School District Governance and Administration is getting down to the hard part of its work: making recommendations to the state school board, legislators and the governor on what changes are needed in the system.
By early November, members hope to have their recommendations ready to submit. They already have held the first of two working sessions this month with a third planned for November to try to translate all the testimony they have heard over the past several months into proposals for short-term and long-term changes.
“I think we need some bold, out-of-the-box recommendations.” – Tom Campbell
“I think we need some bold, out-of-the-box recommendations,” Tom Campbell, the state school board member who is chairman of the commission, said at the commission’s September meeting.
William White, another state board member who has attended several commission meetings, said West Virginia’s public education system can’t keep doing what it always has done. “I do believe we’re going to have to figure out some way to compensate our teachers better,” he added.
To prepare themselves for the task of developing effective recommendations, members of the commission heard from Sharon Harsh of the Appalachian Regional Comprehensive Center. In September, she explained different models for making changes. At the October 15 meeting, she led them through the process of using those models to narrow down a long list of potential recommendations to several that are still in contention.
The topics of those recommendations still under consideration include:
- Giving county districts more flexibility and control over funding from the School Aid Formula;
- Creating a formula that would provide districts with the funding they need without having local excess levies;
- Reducing regulations so that the system of classroom governance essentially would be turned upside down with more authority locally and less coming from the state;
- Having districts share more services regionally;
- Establishing schools based on pockets of student population rather than county lines;
- Having the Legislature address problems of funding associated with prevailing wage;
- Putting the Office of Educational Performance Audits, the Center for Professional Development and the School Building Authority into the same agency;
- Building more flexible time into school calendars to allow for more professional development; and
- Establishing regional school boards aligned with Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) in place of 55 county boards.Those recommendations are expected to be refined further, perhaps with language taken from other recommendations that did not make the cut or with new language that members could craft over the next few weeks. The commission is hoping to get down to three to five final recommendations, so some of the possibilities still under consideration might not make the cut in the end.
Early in the process of narrowing the number of recommendations, the commission adopted a suggestion from member Newt Thomas to consider what effects they would have at five levels: the classroom, the school, the district, the region and the state. The classroom received the highest priority from the group, because members agreed that improving student achievement should be the ultimate goal, but they acknowledged that their assignment from the state school board was directed mainly at making changes at the district level.
Members devoted much discussion to proposed changes in the section of state code, 18-A, that governs public education. That would require the Legislature to take action, but the commission’s chairman, Tom Campbell, a former member of the House of Delegates, said, “If we don’t do anything with 18-A, we’re wasting our time.”
“If we don’t do anything with [state code section] 18-A, we’re wasting our time.” – Tom Campbell
However, he cautioned his colleagues that it wouldn’t be responsible to call for just getting rid of 18-A. “If we’re too unrealistic, nothing will happen,” he said.
Another member, Pendleton County Supt. Doug Lambert, said the commission should be realistic but also should advocate big changes.
Although a few members liked the idea of going to regional school boards instead of having county boards, others saw more problems than solutions in taking such a direction.
“If you regionalize too much, you are going to centralize more,” Campbell said. “I like local responsibility.”
Lambert suggested that someone should do a cost analysis of having regional school boards.
Campbell suggested it might be good to eliminate state control and protection for school districts. He said some districts might fail under such a system, but others would prosper. Many of the tight controls the state exercises over school districts have resulted from problems that have come out of just several counties, he said.
“There are five counties that hold us back,” Campbell said.
After hours of discussion, the members had trouble articulating a consensus position until Lambert suggested the goal should be “a deregulated system that empowers local districts to maximize student achievement.” Harsh called that “a pretty power-packed statement.”
Greenbrier County Supt. Sallie Dalton reminded her fellow commission members that they had heard at earlier meetings that the state will not have enough money in the years ahead to keep the current system going, so the finances will force state leaders to make some tough decisions. Lambert agreed that state funding must be readjusted.
Campbell said he thought the current system almost sets up districts to fail. “It’s difficult to get counties to succeed the way they’re set up now,” he said. “What we have set up in trying to guarantee success has probably encouraged the opposite more.”
As an example of how Harsh set up commission members to develop their recommendations, she advised them to distinguish between the climate of a system and its culture. Culture is long term, she said.
“Unless you change the culture of an organization, you can’t transform it,” she said.
Schools must have the ability to incorporate new things while keeping standard operations going, Harsh said. “The greater the degree of change the harder it is to get it done,” she said. In addition, she warned commission members that they likely will get much pushback as a result of their recommendations.
Raleigh County bases new program on widespread use of iPads.
At the commission’s September meeting, members received hours of presentations on three models of learning, as well as proposals from the West Virginia School Board Association. Among the three different models for learning presented, the one the commission expressed the most interest in and took the longest time on came from Raleigh County Supt. Jim Brown, who explained his district’s new program, iRaleigh, which makes extensive use of Apple iPads in the schools.
Brown said the school system began looking at ways to transform its classroom since he became superintendent in July 2012. He said West Virginia schools generally are behind other school systems across the country that are on their second or third generation digital classrooms, but that meant there were many models available for designing Raleigh County’s system.
“We really focused in Raleigh County on student engagement.” – Jim Brown
“We really focused in Raleigh County on student engagement,” Brown said.
Fortune 500 companies always start with why, he said, so every decision his district makes starts with why.
One goal of the project, Brown said, is to provide more personalized learning. As he spoke, the Raleigh County schools still were busy deploying the equipment. He said every teacher got a MacBook Pro, an iPad and an Apple TV.
“That was the easy part,” Brown said. The next stage of deployment to students included:
- Five iPad Minis for each preschool classroom;
- One iPad Mini for every two students in kindergarten and first grade;
- One iPad for every two students in second grade; and
- One iPad per student in grades three through 12.
In a bit more than two and a half weeks, the school system deployed more than 10,000 devices. Brown said that came after spending an entire year of planning in partnership with Apple Inc.
“We just didn’t want to stick with Apple and their opinion, because we know they’re a vendor,” he said. “They’re selling a product. But we knew we had more support for a one-to-one technology initiative. It was really around personalized learning, having that device in students’ hands, not only as a tool for some of the apps that are out there but actually being able to create text, create presentations and those types of things in the classroom.”
“What we learned consistently across each one of the schools was it wasn’t so much what the technology did but the culture and climate – how it improved in their schools.” – Jim Brown
The preparations included a year of in-depth research on best practices. Brown said Raleigh County school officials studied what school districts elsewhere did. They included one in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and one in Houston, Texas, that is on its third deployment in digital learning, as well as the school system in Birmingham, Alabama. Brown called the Birmingham district’s experience the most impressive.
“What we learned consistently across each one of the schools was it wasn’t so much what the technology did but the culture and climate – how it improved in their schools,” he said.
The Birmingham district previously had the lowest test scores in the state, a horrendous dropout rate, a graduation rate that was a bit more than 63 percent and discipline referrals that were “through the roof,” Brown said, but after deployment of the technology, student engagement went up immediately, discipline problems diminished, attendance improved and overall outcomes started going up.
Campbell observed, “So in this case, the students were empowered.”
Brown replied, “Yes, sir, from beginning to end.”
The Raleigh County district got a five-year financial lease on the devices, which facilitated the infrastructure assessment across the board, he said. Officials wondered if they could handle such a big deployment, but they ran into few problems. One problem that cropped up soon was that middle schools and high schools did not have enough bandwidth at 100 megabytes, Brown said, so they moved most of those schools up to 200 megabytes and the two largest schools up to 500 megabytes.
“It was an easy fix,” he said. “It was a good problem actually to have, because we knew the devices were already being used.”
One reason Brown said the district went with the five-year lease plan was that some districts studied had purchased laptops, which became antiquated within three years and held little to no residual value. Some had expenses recycling those devices, he said. In Raleigh County’s model, after the third year, it will start refreshing one-third of the iPads. The same will be done in the fourth and fifth years, so it becomes a cycle. Another advantage Brown cited with the lease plan is that the district constantly gets updates at no cost.
Apple worked with the district to make the deployment a very smooth process, he said. “Every student gets an iPad that already has a case on it,” Brown said. “We’ve tested it.” The iPads are very sturdy and won’t break easily, he said, and each student also gets earbuds and a charger. The district’s technicians became Apple certified, so they can work on the devices, and any device that has a problem can be replaced within 48 hours, he said.
In grades three through five, students will have their same devices from one year to another. After fifth grade, they will turn in their devices and get new ones. The same devices will be used in grades six through eight and grades nine through 12. “It’s a pretty seamless process,” Brown said.
What he said the district is most proud of is the professional development plan that goes with the technology. Deployment did not work out so well in other districts that failed to provide enough professional development, Brown said, so Raleigh County officials realized they had to show teachers how to use the devices to change teaching and learning. He said research shows about 40 hours of professional development is needed.
Brown said the district converted an old building that once was a special education office into the iRaleigh Technology Center, which contains a training center with a 90-inch screen. The school system started bringing teachers through there on a seven-tier rotation throughout the school year with three-hour training sessions in the morning and afternoon, he said. The district also contracted with Apple for a professional development person, he said. About 80 percent of the apps available for the iPads are free, he said, and many can be used in teaching and learning.
When Brown got around to explaining why the Raleigh County schools took the path they did, it included an explanation of the SAMR Model for using technology to support teaching. SAMR stands for substitution, augmentation, modification and redefinition.
The lowest level of technology integration is substitution, in which technology acts as a direct tool substitute with no functional change, such as using a smart board instead of a blackboard. Augmentation is the next level. In it, technology acts as a direct tool substitute with functional improvement. School officials thought it would be a hurdle, Brown said, “But we’re already seeing how this is occurring in classrooms, and we’re barely a month into this process. We’re seeing classrooms and teachers and students that are already taking the lead on this, and on day two, they’re starting to create digital content.”
The next level of the SAMR model is modification, in which technology allows for significant task redesign. The highest level is redefinition, in which technology allows for the creation of new tasks that were previously inconceivable.
“They think they’re playing a game, but they’re actually engaged.” – Jim Brown
Brown said that, when students finish assignments early and have some downtime, they use their iPads to play games that actually help them learn things like math concepts. “They think they’re playing a game, but they’re actually engaged,” he said.
The iPads also have had some side benefits, Brown said. For example, one high school principal who was a skeptic told him, “Lunch room supervision is phenomenal.” That’s because the students were just talking and working on their iPads, Brown said. Likewise, aides who supervise “challenging buses” have reported the iPads are a godsend, because the students use their iPads instead of getting into trouble, he said, noting that they can be used for many functions that don’t rely on an Internet connection. Also, on foggy days, Brown said, the bus drivers can spot the students better because of the neon-colored iPad covers and the glare from the screens reflecting off their faces.
In addition, he said, many businesses in the Beckley area have been installing Wi-Fi, because parents from homes without WiFi service take their kids out to eat at restaurants that have Wi-Fi. He said Suddenlink has said it will partner with the school system to provide home Wi-Fi with free modems, free routers and free installation to homes with students getting free or reduced-cost lunches for $9.99 per month.
“The hard work is really transforming our classrooms. We’re going to work hard at it,” Brown said. “We’re seeing people that didn’t know how to answer email that are now starting to embrace the technology.” Initially, there were skeptics about the iPads, but the good news is drowning them out, he said.
Another finding from the iRaleigh experience is that alternative education works really well with the iPads, Brown said. For the 2014-2015 school year, he said, the district will have digital instruction with a live teacher. Alternative education students and home-bound students will be responsible for their own learning, he said. The district expects to recoup $1 million with that new format, he said.
Teachers’ phones will be their iPads, Brown said, and that could have some effects on safety. “Regardless of where they’re at in the building, if there is a bomb threat or a shelter-in-place and they’re in the closet with three kids, they can call 911 from their iPad,” he said.
The iPads cost the district $135.48 per student per year, Brown said, and they can save money in many ways. “We just approved $1.2 million for 12 school buses at our last board meeting,” he said. “This [the iPads’ lease] is a drop in the hat in comparison to the benefits and all the other monies that we spend in the school system.”
Greenbrier County Supt. Sallie Dalton, a member of the commission, said she wanted to send a team from the Greenbrier County schools to Raleigh County to observe what’s being done. She said the Greenbrier County schools have been using Netbooks for years. She was pleased that Brown addressed many issues on which other districts across the country have fallen short. In particular, she said, professional development is important.
“You’ve got a solid plan there. It’s probably the best plan I’ve heard, and I’ve heard a number of them.”—Sallie Dalton
“You’ve got a solid plan there,” Dalton said. “It’s probably the best plan I’ve heard, and I’ve heard a number of them.”
“We are proud of it, and we want to share it,” Brown responded. Several districts have inquired about it, he said, and it’s best to see it work in the schools. He added that discipline problems have gone down first thing in the morning at the schools. “When they’re all sitting in the cafeteria or gym waiting to get to class, that’s when all the stupid stuff happens, especially on a Monday after a weekend of Facebook,” Brown said. “But we find them sitting in the gymnasium with the iPads and having good conversations, sharing information.”
Asked how the school system managed to pay for the program, he said the district’s treasurer also wondered how to do it. “We did not take one penny that wasn’t already earmarked for technology,” Brown said. “It is just doing things smarter. And when people buy into a mission, it was a lot easier than we anticipated. We did not have to go to the board for any additional dollars. We really just reallocated resources.”
Raleigh County is the only West Virginia district engaged in such a technology program at that scale, Brown said, and it’s already planning to do more. The district already is using a digital textbook for social studies, he said, and it plans to become fully digital over five years. If Wi-Fi is not available for some students, anything can be dropped into a PDF and put into an iBook, he said.
Another piece of technology the district is using is the Apple TV, which Brown said is a $99 box that allows any student at his or her desk to take over a classroom’s LCD projector or television screen. “One of the things we want to do is catch kids being successful, and boy, that is empowering in the classroom,” he said.
Kristen Amundson, executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education, was another guest at the commission’s meeting. “It’s not about the bits and bytes,” she said in regard to the iRaleigh program. “You started with the instruction, and that’s why it’s successful, because districts have spent piles of money buying toys that weren’t used. The successful models like the Raleigh model start with ‘What is our instructional goal? What is it we want to happen in classrooms for kids?’ And then you build out from there.”
“It’s not from the technology; it’s from sharing the use of the technology with each other. All of us learn better from each other.” – Tom Campbell
Brown said kids learn best from each other, which was a comment that Campbell found interesting. “It’s not from the technology; it’s from sharing the use of the technology with each other,” Campbell said. “All of us learn better from each other.”
Raleigh County officials are hoping the new technology-based program will cut down on the number of students who drop out before they graduate from high school. Brown said each grade level starts out with 950 to 1,000 kids. “When we hit that sophomore year, we see it start to dip in the upper 800s,” he said. “By the time we get to the senior year, we’re down to 800 kids per grade in the junior and senior class. We’re losing too many kids. And there’s so much downtime. That’s the other part: too much downtime in the instructional process. And this really gives us an opportunity to always fully keep kids engaged.”
Asked how the school system deals with objectionable content that students might find on the Internet, Brown said that is a problem that faces society in general because many kids get access to the Internet without any training in how to use it. If you give students a lot of latitude, they will use it, he said. “But infusing technology as early as preschool in our schools, we are taking on ourselves that moral responsibility to teach kids what is appropriate and what’s not,” he said.
The first thing the students get is iPad policy training, Brown said, and the schools also have a device to monitor all the iPads. “It doesn’t replace mom and dad’s responsibility,” he said. “The challenge we have right now is what happens when the device goes home. We’ve got a fix for it, but it’s not the one we want. We want to have a proxy server.”
Brown said the state Education Department could help by providing a new proxy server. As the process now stands, when students go online, what they do must run through a state filter and come back to the county. When Campbell asked why the school district couldn’t have its own filter instead of running everything through the state, Jeff Webb, network administrator for Raleigh County schools, said the reason is that the state is the schools’ Internet service provider. But Campbell kept asking why that must be the case and suggested looking into changing that situation. He said every time you add a loop in technology, it can add complications. He suggested looking into how robust the technology on the state level is and getting the message of what Raleigh County is doing to the rest of the districts.
“Apple’s been like the dirty word in education in West Virginia. It’s almost forbidden fruit.” – Sallie Dalton
But a big issue for others at the meeting was the fact that the Raleigh County schools were working with Apple equipment. Districts generally have been limited to using non-Apple products because of a long-standing contract the state has had with another technology company, Pomeroy.
“Apple’s been like the dirty word in education in West Virginia,” Dalton said. “It’s almost forbidden fruit.”
State school board member William White said that Apple was the standard for technology in schools in California, where he once lived. Campbell said Raleigh County’s experience shows why policies should not be dictated for schools by state government.
“The thing I’m seeing here is this is a prime example of local empowerment that you took on yourselves that’s led to teacher and student empowerment apparently,” he said. “I mean see the results, but the results I’ve seen look pretty good, and it makes sense.”
Brown agreed with that assessment. He added that it looks as though Raleigh County will improve its student attendance rate, which has ranked 41st in the state. “We see that number coming up immediately,” he said.
However, he warned, the iPads do not replace teachers. He said West Virginia still needs to recruit the best and brightest students to become teachers.
“If we frame it as about the technology, we’re missing the mark,” Brown said. “It’s about all the other things that are the byproducts.”
Campbell called it a matter of climate and culture, student engagement and teacher engagement. “We not just seeing the dropout of kids; we’re seeing the dropout of adult teachers,” he said. “They’re retiring as soon as they can.” When that happens, he said, you lose the mentorship for younger teachers and the wisdom of the older teachers.
Professional development is important, Brown said. The reforms the Legislature passed this year are a good first step, he said, and it’s important to get 180 days of school in, but there are so many restrictions on the school calendar that it is hard to fit in professional development. He said the Legislature still dictates too much.
White issued a challenge to the National Association of State Boards of Education to research the effects of technology on the quality of teachers coming into the profession. When asked how many states dictate parameters for school calendars in their codes, Amundson said most do because it drives funding.
When Brown was asked about problems with using iPads, he said the state’s Access email account was a big obstacle, because students must have email accounts to set up iTunes accounts, and the only email accounts the district could allow students to use are through the Access system. “If there’s anything in West Virginia that’s archaic, it’s that Access account,” he said.
Webb said the major problem he has seen as the district’s network administrator is updating the devices. “There’s something between us and Apple, and it’s coming from the state department’s filtering or WVNET’s caching that just will not allow us to successfully update on a grand scale,” he said. For example, he said, if he tries to update the devices, he might get a 50 percent success rate the first time and 50 percent the second time and so on. But the school system would need to update about 11,000 devices in the very near future, so he wanted to see that problem fixed. “It is not a Raleigh County issue; it is a statewide issue,” Webb said.
Cabell County Supt. Bill Smith, who is a member of the commission, said Apple’s interest in educational technology was limited initially, although the company has become friendlier toward it. He suggested that, because Apple’s involvement in West Virginia has been limited, some parts of the state system are not compatible with Apple products.
Campbell said, “Just from my experience, I’d be concerned about the robustness of the infrastructure in Charleston.”
Webb explained that the problem he has experienced started in January. Prior to January, the schools were able to update all machines, so something changed then, he said.
Brown said districts would like to be able to use the Tools for Schools money they get from the state better, but the state’s contract requires them to get almost any technology equipment through Pomeroy, which does not handle Apple products.
“That’s a waste of taxpayers’ money if it’s not really purposeful. We have to spend it or lose it, so by gosh, we’re going to spend it, but we’d like to spend it for a truly purposeful [matter].” – Jim Brown
“Our hands are tied. It does not fit with the model of Tools for Schools: one vendor,” he said. “That’s a waste of taxpayers’ money if it’s not really purposeful. We have to spend it or lose it, so by gosh, we’re going to spend it, but we’d like to spend it for a truly purposeful [matter].”
When Campbell started asking questions why the state and its school districts must work through Pomeroy as a sole-source provider, Heather Deskins, general counsel for the state Education Department, explained, “Tools for Schools is…legislatively appropriated for technology, and it must be spent in accordance with the legislation, which is that you have to buy off the state contract. When the [request for proposals] has been put out every year, Apple never bids on it. So Pomeroy is the successful vendor. We’ve approached Apple many times and asked them to bid to be part of this contract and they refuse to do so. They wish to do one-on-one; they don’t want to be part of the state contract. So the way that the legislation on the contract is, Supt. Brown is exactly right, there is no flexibility on anything other than what is available through Pomeroy.”
[Apple has contended that state restrictions have prevented it from bidding on the contract, but that was not mentioned at the meeting.]
Dalton said, “They wrote legislation for Tools for Schools, and they described a vendor, and the only vendor is Pomeroy.”
But Deskins said there is a twofold reason why the contract is handled the way it is. “The legislation says it must be used through the state contract, and the state Purchasing Division controls how our fees are done,” she said. “Therefore, there’s the state contract. So you have both purchasing regulations and state contract.”
Campbell then added, “And Pomeroy is an out-of-state company, by the way.”
When someone suggested noticing what type of devices legislators use during their meetings, several people said, “Apple.”
“We need to look at legislation that ties us down like this one.” – Bill Smith
Campbell said the commission needed to hear about the problem with the state technology contract, because it relates to the issue of administration. That seems to be one way the Legislature is restricting school districts, he said, “which I would argue is a totally false economy.”
Smith said, “We need to look at legislation that ties us down like this one.”
Campbell said he hoped the commission would make concrete recommendations for changes. “One of the things the audit will tell you is that we have probably the most restrictive system,” he said.
Asked how Raleigh County was able to get Apple products despite the state contract with Pomeroy, Mary Ann Foster, technology coordinator for the Raleigh County schools, said the district used excess levy funds, some School Air Formula Step 7 technology funding and local share funds through Tools for Schools. Dalton noted that Raleigh County has a 100 percent excess levy, so it’s easier for that district to be more independent of the state than other counties that have lesser levies or none at all.
Although the commission had allotted just 15 minutes to hear the presentation from Raleigh County, members were so interested in it that they devoted more than an hour to discussing it.
Later in the meeting, commission member Harry Shaffer, said he had asked his son if the iPad was a critical and useful part of the honors academy in Boone County that his son participated in. His son’s response was that learning was enhanced, it was handy to have Internet access at all times, and the students downloaded good calculator apps. “It also hindered learning, because we would play games on them during instructional time,” Shaffer read from his son’s message. “I think the pros outweigh the cons, and I don’t know if I would consider the iPad critical.”
Shaffer noted that his son and the others in the honors academy were among the top students. He suggested that iPads are probably more important for other students.
Commission also considers Eight-Step Process.
A presentation on another learning model, the Eight-Step Process, came from Dalton, who said it has been around about a decade. It’s a process, not a program or something schools can buy, she said. Many people suggest that school systems should run more like businesses to be more efficient, she said, and the Eight-Step Process comes from the philosophy of Total Quality Management.
“I’m really reserved about trends and things that come and go, and I think that’s where we really are at risk with our students. We don’t stay focused on our mission, and we get marketed to. There’s a big difference between education research and market research.” – Sallie Dalton
“I’m really reserved about trends and things that come and go, and I think that’s where we really are at risk with our students,” Dalton said. “We don’t stay focused on our mission, and we get marketed to. There’s a big difference between education research and market research.”
Aspects of the Eight-Step Process can be seen in other approaches, she said. The first thing Dalton said she loves about it is the data desegregation, because there was a time when the schools didn’t look closely at data.
“Students do have to have curriculum that is strong enough, and they have to be taught well enough so that they can master those essential exams,” she said. “You can’t do much of anything today and not have to take a test…. So running from testing is not the answer, but testing is not the only thing we need to look at.”
Dalton cited a few features of the Eight-Step Process that are good:
- It addresses the needs of at-risk children, including children in poverty, such as most of the children in West Virginia. It also includes children for whom English is not the first language at home, and their numbers are increasing in West Virginia.
- It empowers teachers to make their own decisions. “That plays heavily into what we’re here for, because we are regulated and we have a tremendous amount of laws…which takes away empowerment from our very people that are in charge of teaching children,” Dalton said.
- It promotes collaboration. Dalton said school officials are working diligently for collaboration time in school calendars, but they are fighting the law. “Governance of schools interferes with some of this model,” she added.
- It is very school-driven. It is a process, not a program. The Greenbrier County schools have used it since about 2003 and have become very data-driven.
- It requires personnel to provide staff development and job development in the classroom. That makes it harder for smaller counties, so they might have to rely heavily on their Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) for support. “You just can’t necessarily replicate it in every county, because a lot of it is going to be tied into how many people you can afford to do it,” Dalton said. She uses instructional coaches paid with federal funds and technology integration specialists to teach adults, the teachers, rather than children, and they must do it during the day, she said.
White said, “We do have small counties, and I want to make sure we are taking advantage of our RESAs.” He spent nine months last year studying RESAs, he said, and he found they are underused resources.
“The teacher in the classroom is so micromanaged that any organizational structure and administrative process will work. It doesn’t matter, because at the end of the day, that teacher can’t do what they’re supposed to do.” – Dana Waldo
Dana Waldo, another commission member, called for empowering teachers. “The teacher in the classroom is so micromanaged that any organizational structure and administrative process will work,” he said. “It doesn’t matter, because at the end of the day, that teacher can’t do what they’re supposed to do.”
“When someone’s empowered, they feel trusted,” Campbell said. “The teachers I’ve talked to don’t feel trusted.”
White said, “Part of this lack of trust has been created by the [state] board and by the Department of Education.” He said, “We say we trust them, but our actions don’t show it.”
Expeditionary Learning offers another alternative.
The third learning model the commission heard about was the Expeditionary Learning Model. The explanation came from both Donna Peduto, director of operations for the state school board, and Smith, the superintendent of the Cabell County schools, where it has been used. Peduto said the model is different than others, because:
- Students learn by conducting expeditions rather than sitting in the classroom and learning one subject at a time. They have high student engagement. Students themselves serve as leaders.
- They have high achievement. There are about 150 schools in 30 states using this model, and most of the high schools have 100 percent college acceptance rates.
- They have a great deal of character development.
Smith said the Cabell County schools have been using the model for eight years to create a culture of achievement. He said his district has stopped the rapid turnover at one school in a poverty-stricken area by empowering teachers. Some aspects of the model require state waivers, because the model requires teachers to meet weekly to talk about practice.
“We have families that have so much going on that education is not a primary concern for them, so the ownership has to be on the student.” – Bill Smith
Expeditionary learning is partly project-based learning, Smith said, and it encases the whole learning process. “We have families that have so much going on that education is not a primary concern for them, so the ownership has to be on the student,” he said.
The Cabell County school system is looking at creating a model that can be replicated in other parts of the state, Smith said. A Benedum Foundation grant will allow teachers to stay at the Heritage Farm for sabbaticals of two to three weeks and observe the model being used in schools, he said.
An important part of implementing the model, Smith said, is having a new teacher induction program. He said it results in having new teachers who talk like seasoned professionals. “They are actually empowered to make decisions in the classroom,” he said.
Older teachers will adopt new methods if they are given the time to learn them, Smith said, but the only way to do that is to build in time for them to train and reflect on their craft. He added that it’s good that the teachers now have a part in the staff selection process as a result of this year’s education reforms.
But Dalton pointed out that the new law on hiring procedure says that if the faculty senate, principal and superintendent agree on a teaching staff person, the school board “shall” approve the hiring. She said that takes power away from the school board.
However, another superintendent who is a member of the commission, Doug Lambert of Pendleton County, said the new hiring procedures have worked well in his district. “We turned over 20 percent of our professional staff this past year – 21 people, which is astronomical in rural Pendleton County,” he said. The new teachers coming in embrace the new hiring system, he said, and the district has made some tremendous hires. They’re coming out of college ready to teach, he said, and the veteran teachers are accepting what the new teachers are bringing in.
“It’s not all gloom and doom in regard to what we see coming in,” Lambert said.
Commission member Newt Thomas suggested the commission should decide what the responsibilities and roles of teachers and principals should be. Then, the commission could decide how school districts could support them, he said.
Campbell said, “We should go where we think we ought to be and then figure out how to get there.”
Thomas said, “A lot of this policy can be handled by the [state] board of education.”
Campbell added that he has spoken with leaders in the House and Senate who still are interested in education reform. He said they don’t consider it done.
WVSBA offers proposals
When it came time for Barbara Parsons, president of the Monongalia County school board, to present the recommendations of the WVSBA, she told commission members they have a huge and challenging job. But she noted that much of what they had been discussing dealt with tactics rather than strategies. She asked them to consider the difference between governance and administration.
“I think we’re here because we have seen financial projections for the state of West Virginia that are not extremely optimistic. We’re going to the downhill side of the budgeting process.” – Barbara Parsons
“I think we’re here because we have seen financial projections for the state of West Virginia that are not extremely optimistic,” Parsons said. “We’re going to the downhill side of the budgeting process.” Within two years, she said, the state will be at the breakeven point with the budget, and education accounts for the largest portion of the budget. West Virginia can’t sustain the public education system the way it is funded, she said and predicted that all districts with excess levies probably will face challenges.
Campbell acknowledged, “There’s a growing frustration level among the public about what they perceive as a lack of success in the schools.” Parsons replied, “We’re here to avoid a crisis.”
To that end, she noted, the charter for the commission calls for it to:
- Review the current governance structure and all the administrative costs that necessitates;
- Review enrollment necessary to meet minimum fixed costs under the state aid formula;
- Address – or perhaps identify – the inefficiencies of replicating services 55 times;
- Help small counties (and “small” should be defined, she said) create job-sharing arrangements wherever possible; and
- Suggest changes to the context of the system of 55 local boards and the unique needs of their students.
“The present context of local boards of education is that they’re elected to represent their school districts,” Parsons said. Boards exist only under statute and are prescribed by state law as being able to exercise only powers conferred on them or those arising by implication, she said.
“Is it any wonder then that local boards may be seen as ineffective and unnecessary when they are more focused on structures and processes than educational delivery and outcomes?” – Barbara Parsons
Although state code lists a multitude of responsibilities for school boards, Parsons said, notably absent is any reference to governance. “Boards of education, as defined by the ‘powers’ they are granted, have virtually nothing to do with defining a mission and values, establishing direction for district operations, aligning policy and budget to the goals for academic programs, measuring performance or progress, providing support for growth and development of staff as well as board members,” she said. “The work of the district boards as defined by statute and the state board of education are essentially tasks that provide physical and operating structure for the delivery of education. Is it any wonder then that local boards may be seen as ineffective and unnecessary when they are more focused on structures and processes than educational delivery and outcomes?”
Parsons also asked several other questions:
- Where is accountability for low-performing schools and students?
- Who is responsible for improving student outcomes?
- Who decides how that is accomplished?
- Who assigns the resources and rewards success?
- Is it only about money?
- Where is the leadership?
Boards are doing what they are prescribed, she said, teachers are doing what they are told to do, and money is allocated and spent according to the School Aid Formula. Further, Parsons said: Students are taught, coached, encouraged, retaught and retested. Parents have been satisfied, angry, frustrated, confused, tolerant and demanding. RESAs are surviving and doing what they are reinforced to do. The state board has set expectations and standards. The state superintendent has steered the department in directions of interest. The Legislature has been responsive to popular issues and resounding requests. The governor has been interested, involved, supportive and encouraging. And the public distrusts the government.
Then, Parsons posed these questions:
- Is low student achievement a problem or a symptom?
- Is governance a problem or a symptom?
- What achievement problems were addressed by the audit?
- What is the most direct way to address student achievement?
- What is the problem?
- How do we solve it?
- What role does the local board of education play?
“The people who govern school systems have to make decisions that allow them to survive and meet the goals of education. Money makes it happen; less money makes it more challenging. Somebody has got to make the challenging decisions. Can education still occur? Absolutely.” – Barbara Parsons
Noting that money is needed to run school systems, Parsons said, “The people who govern school systems have to make decisions that allow them to survive and meet the goals of education. Money makes it happen; less money makes it more challenging. Somebody has got to make the challenging decisions. Can education still occur? Absolutely. It may occur without all the toys and the tools that we heard about today, because there are still people who sit in classrooms around this world on dirt floors where they actually scribe on the floor to learn to write and learn to do math. And they leave that country, and they come to the United States and become doctors and lawyers and politicians and go back and work in their countries. So education is a value.”
Education is also a process, she said, and it’s facilitated by excellent teachers.
“Governance involves creating a vision, sharing the vision, aligning all your policies to the vision, aligning the budget to the vision, aligning the organization with the vision, establishing procedures for monitoring the implementation of policy and communicating performance, “Parsons said. “So the key word is alignment, but it needs to be aligned to where you need to go.”
Parsons said she told her board she wanted its mission written on the wall in the back of the meeting room. “So every time this board makes a decision about assigning resources, paying somebody or developing a program or supporting an initiative, we’ll say: ‘Does it fit our mission?’” she said. “And if it doesn’t, we won’t do it, because you waste your resources and your time and your staff when you assign things that are not focused on where you need to go.”
Referring to the commission’s charter, Parsons said, “In no other area of education in West Virginia is there a clearer reason to put the needs of students above the desires of the adults and to find a way to restructure or remake the system of local boards of education.” Then she suggested it should read: “In no other area of education in West Virginia is there a clearer reason to put the needs of students above the desires of the adults and to find a way to restructure or remake the system of education governance to make education more effective.”
Citing a study called “Effective Best Practices for School Boards: Linking Local Governance with Student Academic Success” prepared for the El Paso Leadership and Research Council, Parsons quoted authors Christine Thurlow Brenner, Gary Sullivan and Elizabeth Dalton as saying: “Applying a classic business perspective can help determine what the community and the school board value.” She said they found that an organization must choose from among three value disciplines:
- Valuing organization operations leads to a minimum level of quality or performance at the very lowest level of cost.
- Organizations that value customer intimacy, “often become social institutions first and institutions of learning second.” (Policy changes place employee, parent and community concerns first.)
- Organizations that choose product leadership (educational delivery) are most concerned about innovation that garners results and raises student achievement.
The Commission on School District Governance and Administration has been asked to restructure or remake the system of local boards of education to more efficiently provide students in all counties, especially small counties, with the same high-quality education, Parsons said. She reminded members that their recommendations may include:
- Proposed legislation;
- Proposed state board policies;
- Maximizing time local boards spend planning and goal-setting (She asked: Where is accountability for action?);
- Efficiency of finances and resources;
- Accounting principles;
- Job-sharing potential (an initiative to focus on small counties); and
- Any other provision for an efficient system of schools.
With all that in mind, Parsons said, the WVSBA has developed several proposals to change education governance in West Virginia to produce more cost-effective delivery and improve student outcomes:
- Keep the current model of locally elected boards of education. Hold local boards accountable for student achievement through performance audits based on development and progress toward meaningful academic goals and efficient use of resources to support those goals. (One state did get rid of local boards for a few years, but it saved little money and didn’t work, Parsons said.)
- Hold local boards accountable for more meaningful work than compliance with rules and regulations that have little impact on staff performance and student achievement.
- Focus on quality of inputs and outputs based on sound governance decisions by local boards.
- Actively partner with them to advocate, communicate, support and implement state educational changes and initiatives within their local communities. (“We can be your voice of reason if you’re reasonable,” Parsons said. “We can be the change agents, the advocates of the people who are the interface between what needs to happen in education and the change that’s coming to make it happen.”)
- The West Virginia School Board Association recommends, in cooperation with the Training Standards Review Committee of the West Virginia Board of Education, that additional governance education be provided to all boards of education to increase knowledge and awareness of the educational environment locally, statewide, nationally and internationally to support informed decision-making. (Much of the information the commission heard earlier in its meeting was good, Parsons said, but those are operational issues at the school board level. She said they involved tactics to which resources and people can be assigned.)
- County clerks should be asked to distribute a brochure prepared by the WVSBA to each candidate who files to run for school board that explains the role of the board, its responsibilities, operations and accountabilities, as well as those of the individual board member. (Parsons said, “What I’d hate to say to these people is: ‘Don’t worry. It’s an easy job. You don’t have to do anything. You just have to comply with state code. That’ll tell you everything you need to do.’”)
- Post the same information on the state school board and Education Department websites.
- Align all entities, persons and functions that provide educational governance and oversight through shared goals, standards and objectives so resources are used effectively and efficiently. (“When you have alignment from top to bottom through all the processes of education and everyone’s focused on the same outcomes, then the resources are all focused more cost-effectively and more efficiently, and you should be able to get the job done,” Parsons said.)
- Clarify roles and responsibilities for educational outcomes so accountability is clear. (“That, in and of itself, is one big challenge,” Parsons said. “It would be helpful, because if you can’t identify who’s accountable, you really can’t manage it. You can’t hold anybody responsible.”)
- Appoint five active superintendents, as academic leaders, to a standing Educational Initiatives Team – two from larger (one growing and one shrinking) counties, two from smaller (one growing and one shrinking) counties, and one from the poorest county – to review existing academic standards and initiatives and update or revise annual statewide educational initiatives. The work of the group would go the state superintendent for implementation through the Education Department.
- Ensure that the state superintendent, who literally serves as the superintendent of public education, is responsible for direction, framework and interactions with schools and school boards to facilitate implementation and monitoring of the academic standards and initiatives established by the Educational Initiatives Team. This position also must be linked actively to schools of higher education for the purpose of monitoring and enhancing teacher education standards and curriculum. This position would serve as consultant to and ex-officio member of the Educational Initiatives Team and would be responsible for working with the governor and others to draft and promote applicable legislation regarding education. (“It all goes back to teacher education,” Parsons said. “Quite frankly, I think teacher education sucks.” Schools are businesses, and higher education institutions also are businesses, she said, but teachers are discouraged and frustrated, because they are so prescribed in everything they do. “We have dumbed down their degree,” Parsons said. “We have dumbed down their education.” Thank goodness, she said, West Virginia does have good teachers, because they love their work, but the situation is not conducive to recruiting bright, young people. Teacher education must be up to date, Parsons said, and it cannot be done on a computer, because teachers must be able to interact with people. She said the audit found lack of content knowledge. “That is frightening,” Parsons said. “An area of critical need in West Virginia is teacher preparation. They lack content knowledge, especially reading instruction and math. Well, without reading instruction and math, what else is there?”)
- The director of the Office of Educational Performance Audits should be responsible for developing a school accreditation and audit process focused on performance of schools by assessing compliance with state and local academic and financial goals and objectives and student outcomes. Information produced by this position will be shared with the Educational Initiatives Team, the state school board and the state superintendent for purposes of supporting district performance and growth and teacher curriculum in institutions of higher education. This position also would serve as a consultant to and in an ex-officio capacity as member of the Educational Initiatives Team. The key role will be to identify trends and deficiencies that need to be addressed by services of the Department of Education and Regional Education Service Agencies.
- Redesign the Department of Education, reporting directly to the state superintendent, who would establish policies and administer the day-to-day operations of the department. The department would administer and enforce state education laws, advise school districts on legal, financial and program matters and offer development teams to distressed counties. Those teams would work with the WVSBA to address issues of governance, finance, academic achievement and staffing to create better performance and prevent state takeover of districts. The department also would be responsible for collecting data and reports necessary to satisfy state and federal reporting requirements. (“Right now, we don’t have a prevention mode; we have a punitive mode,” Parsons said. “So let’s help prevent state takeover, which is an extremely expensive proposition, and I haven’t seen yet where it’s had really productive outcomes.” To that, Campbell said, “Actually the results I’ve seen have been just the opposite as far as student outcomes.”)
- Reassess the existing regions presently assigned to the RESAs for geographic, financial and performance compatibility in an effort to create better alignment for RESA services as well as shared services.
- Reinforce the existing statutory roles of RESAs as listed:
- Provide technical assistance to low-performing schools and school systems.
- Provide high-quality, targeted staff development to enhance teacher classroom effectiveness and content knowledge.
- Coordinate shared services including purchasing, specialized personnel, communications and technology, curriculum development programs for exceptional children.
- Secure and/or manage grants.
- Install, maintain and repair information technology equipment and software.
- Create a governance structure wherein RESAs are accountable to their collective local school districts with regard to contractual services including quality standards of performance as well as funding sources. (“Right now, they do not report to nor are they accountable to the school districts that they serve,” Parsons said. WVSBA Executive Director Howard O’Cull clarified that the code was changed in 2002 so that RESAs report to the state board, and the governing boards for RESAs were made into advisory councils. Parsons said, “When you’re got that much distance between you and the organization that you’re trying to hold accountable, what do you know about them? What they tell you.” So she told commission members, “If you want direct accountability, you look at the service that’s offered, the quality of that service, and I say ‘yay’ or nay.’ I’ll use you or I won’t. And if I choose not to use you because you’re not serving me well, then I have other options and you may not survive. So there’s a nice dynamic between the people who can help govern you or to whom you’re providing services….” As a school board member, Parsons said, she is glad that the RESAs provide billing for Medicaid, because it’s very specialized, so it’s good that each county does not have to handle it. “But if we can’t hold them accountable, how do we get them to change?” she asked. Campbell said, “I would say they get very little help from the state board. They’re pretty much on their own. Some perform well; some don’t.” Parsons said that’s why accountability is needed for the RESAs.)
- Allocate additional staff and support resources to RESAs from the Department of Education as attrition occurs due to turnover and retirement based on the primary needs for technical assistance to low-performing schools and teacher development.
- Provide incentives to RESAs based on performance and service as evaluated by the districts they serve designed to encourage efficient service, quality and cost effectiveness.
Parsons said the WVSBA further recommends that, due to the complexity of public school governance in West Virginia, the Commission on School District Governance and Administration should be retained to further gather data and study the existing structures and barriers to improving educational delivery, financial performance and student outcomes. Following the implementation of any recommendations, the commission would monitor the effects to determine the effectiveness of the effort, she said.
White called for defining what local control means. Local control means different things from state to state, he said, and West Virginia is one of few states that have county districts.
“The fear out there by every county agency other than school systems [is that] this is the slippery slope to disintegration. And it may be.” – Barbara Parsons
Parsons said it’s a huge emotional issue, a practical issue, a structural issue, a financial issue and a control issue. You wouldn’t have to address it as a county border issue but as a service issue, she said, “But the fear out there by every county agency other than school systems [is that] this is the slippery slope to disintegration. And it may be.” Parsons said her philosophy is: If we’re not proactive on this, a crisis will be forced upon us by the Legislature because of a shortage of funding.
Campbell, who served many years in the House of Delegates, said he thought legislators would love to see proactive proposals, because they are going to be in a financial box. They can react better to a plan that is thought out well, he said.
Parsons said, “There is nothing more powerful in our society than an effective teacher.” Campbell agreed.
Thomas said he would like to see the costs of the WVSBA proposals. Parsons said no one had done such an analysis, but she suggested there is “a wonderful opportunity,” because of all the people who will retire soon, to restructure the system to make teaching more effective and achieve better learning outcomes. “As positions come open, you can let attrition take place,” she said. “You can assign and reassign work. You can deploy people from the state department to the RESAs or to the counties or wherever they’re needed, if they’re needed.”
White advised state leaders to be careful about what West Virginia does, because the state is not isolated. He said it could lose teachers to other states.
But Parsons said every business could say that. She said teachers do get a good package of benefits, and such advantages are not promoted enough.
Waldo asked if the election of school board members is an issue. Parsons said some states appoint board members when not enough people participate in elections. She said most school board members would say they would get reelected if they do a good job and won’t if they don’t do a good job. “Well, that’s weak, because the electorate is the most ignorant group I’ve ever met,” Parsons said. “I hate to say that, but the American electorate just really has a long way to go to get on board.”
“I don’t dispute that,” Campbell said.
Waldo said there is a huge disconnect in having the state board oversee county boards, whose members are elected by citizens in their counties. He asked what relationship the state board has with the local boards if that accountability is in the hands of somebody else.
Parsons said, “I think if the local school board is doing what they need to do as far as governance – setting the direction, keeping the resources on the eye of the direction, et cetera, and the classroom is doing well – that will be perceived…that the school board’s doing what they need to do.”
Campbell asked who the teacher ultimately is responsible to. Waldo said it is the electorate.
White said some boards are highly functional, while others are dysfunctional, so training is critical.
“You have some very weak counties, so how do you deal with it?” – Tom Campbell
Campbell said he liked the concept of doing intervention before having the state take over control of a school district. At one state board meeting, he said, members wanted to give partial control back to a county, but because of the person who appeared on behalf of the county, there was no way he could vote to do it. “You have some very weak counties, so how do you deal with it?” he asked.
Parsons said Waldo’s question about the accountability of local school boards is worthy of consideration, because filling in the gaps for alignment of responsibility is critical for accountability.
White said he has visited counties where board members on each side of an issue hate each other. That’s dysfunctional, he said.
Campbell said many boards are afraid that, if they vote wrong, the state will take them over. “It’s not clear how we do it,” he said. “Different superintendents look at it different ways and express it different ways, which leaves a lot of inconsistency. And we have boards that not only don’t know what they’re doing, but they’re trembling that they’re going to be taken over.”
O’Cull said many boards that have been taken over don’t realize how they can get out from under takeover, because there is no direction on that from the Education Department or the state board.
At the end of the October 15 meeting, O’Cull gave commission members a paper he had written with Greg Prudich, president of the Mercer County school board and vice president of WVSBA. It proposes offering more local autonomy and control by establishing the status of “Innovation School District.” Just as Innovation Zone schools get waivers from state laws or policies, an Innovation School District would get similar freedom.
“County boards seeking to achieve Innovation School District Status would have to demonstrate fiscal stability, material compliance with state school personnel laws, a commitment to develop the necessary policies, rules and procedures or practices that will provide the county board success as an Innovation School District,” Prudich and O’Cull say in their paper. Included would be the setting aside of extant policies, rules, regulations and procedures or practices that would inhibit success as an Innovation School District, revised processes and procedures for county board governance that would result in greater county board emphases on oversight and monitoring, data-based decision-making, community engagement and specialized board development, they write.
In addition, they call for such a board to:
- Demonstrate commitments to articulated plans and procedures that enhance adaptability based on emergent research or evidence-based findings;
- Articulate why the designation is necessary instead of relying on the current statutory structure of county board operations;
- Establish a school calendar that could vary from that provided for in statute if the modifications could lead to greater success;
- Develop a comprehensive professional development plan with strong input from school personnel; and
- Establish reportage processes to show progress, or lack of it, in improving student performance.
The proposal also sets out several other requirements for districts that would want to get the Innovation status. As Prudich and O’Cull see it, the status of Innovation School District would be granted for not less than five years.
NASBE leader gives national perspective.
In her presentation from her perspective as executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), Amundson said that, after a period of control in education swinging to the national government, it is swinging back to the states. Some issues are unique to West Virginia, but others are common to other states, she said.
Although No Child Left Behind, the education reform law pushed by former President George W. Bush, has been the target of much criticism, Amundson said, it did produce significant gains for students at the bottom. In grades four through eight in reading and math, there was a 20-point gain in scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress, she said. The law had significant problems, she said, but at least schools could no longer ignore the problems of those kids at the bottom.
Dalton agreed with that and said it has compelled school districts to increase their participation rates.
Amundson said one “policy lever” for states is to focus on how to recruit people to be teachers. Across the country, state boards are working with institutions of higher education to get the best students to go into teaching, she said.
Although many people have cited the success Finland has had from restructuring its education system, Amundson pointed out that the Finns don’t accept everyone into their teacher education programs. Also, she said, even though Finland has fewer standardized tests, those it does have carry higher stakes. If students don’t attain a certain score, they can’t get into college, she said. “I think some of the people who are enchanted with Finland are only paying attention to selected parts of Finland,” she said.
Smith said West Virginia is over-testing kids. He suggested allowing tests like the ACT that are given anyway to take the place of other tests.
Dalton said the Greenbrier County school system is rewriting its student achievement policy and exams for high school students. She asked why it makes sense to give semester exams in January and June to students who have taken WESTEST, ACT, SAT and other tests. She said her district is looking at offering a “carrot” to students, such as considering certain performance on those tests as making make them exempt from the semester exams. Attendance and behavior also would be tied in, she said.
Amundson said students in some school systems get passed along from grade to grade until they get to college and have to take remedial courses, so some states are working with higher education institutions to look at teacher preparation. Georgia is doing something interesting, she said, by having such alternative certification methods as Teach for America and teacher residency models, as well as is using performance-based tests at the end of the first year.
States also are looking at how to keep teachers, Amundson said, and professional development is a key piece of that. When it’s intensive, ongoing and connected to practice, it can have an effect on student learning, she said. New Jersey is an interesting model for West Virginia because of its strong tradition of local decision-making, she said. That state gives districts menus of options to choose from for teacher evaluations and professional development, she said. “So far, there seems to be great harmony,” Amundson said, adding that the law setting that up got through the New Jersey Legislature unanimously.
Tennessee set high standards for kids long before Common Core standards, which West Virginia and most states are adopting, came along, she said. The state changed tests a few years ago, knowing that some kids would get lower scores initially, but the grades would be more honest. Now the scores are going up again, she said.
“When you’re spending other people’s money, you got to be really clear about two things. One is that you’re spending it as efficiently and effectively as you can. The second is that you let them know that is what you are doing.” – Kristen Amundson
Amundson said the comprehensiveness of West Virginia’s education efficiency audit makes the state a leader. She noted its focus on governance and efficiency. “When you’re spending other people’s money, you got to be really clear about two things,” she said. “One is that you’re spending it as efficiently and effectively as you can. The second is that you let them know that is what you are doing.”
The work of the Commission on School District Governance and Administration could be very important, Amundson said, because she was unaware of another state endeavoring to do something so comprehensive. But Parsons, who has studied education reforms in other states and countries, said many have made changes already. Among the most recent was the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island, which finished its reforms a year ago, she said.
Amundson said it’s an enormous challenge for every state, which must set its own goals and then hold local school districts accountable. That’s the challenge of the next decade, she said.
NASBE is very interested in what’s going on in West Virginia, Amundson said, and the organization wants to be both a resource for the state and to learn from its experience. “No one can accuse you of shying away from the problem,” she said, adding that it’s an exciting endeavor.
Campbell noted that the state school board had received strong feedback from just one recommendation from the audit. That recommendation was for the state board and Education Department to get out of running the Cedar Lakes Conference Center in Jackson County. Dalton said boards considering big changes tend to hear only from opponents.
White said West Virginia education leaders need to be willing to allow the test scores to go down when they raise standards for students so they can be built up again. “If people see how it will help them, they are more likely to do it,” he said.
Commission members are scheduled to meet again on October 30 and November 4 to complete their work on recommendations for changing school district governance and administration.
State officials try to allay concerns about Common Core
By Jim Wallace
West Virginia is among 46 states and the District of Columbia that are in the process of adopting a new set of content standards and objectives for public schools called the Common Core, but that process is facing backlash in several states. In recent months, some West Virginia legislators – mostly Republicans – have expressed misgivings about the Common Core. To address those concerns, officials from the state Education Department gave legislators an informal briefing on Common Core while they were at the Capitol for monthly interim meetings. Those who attended included 13 delegates and two senators.
Robert Hull, associate superintendent in the Division of Teaching and Learning, explained that content standards are nothing new for West Virginia and the Common Core standards should be good for the state.
Content standards are a description of what students need to know, understand and be able to do in each subject by grade level, he said. They are focused on the learning that needs to occur, not the curriculum or materials to be used – in other words, student outcomes, he said.
Hull gave several reasons to have content standards:
- To set rigorous levels for all learning;
- To ensure all students receive an equitable education regardless of their ZIP Code;
- To clearly communicate what students need to be successful at each level;
- To provide consistent assessment basis for students, schools and districts; and
- To serve as the basis for curriculum development and instructional materials selection.
West Virginia has had content standards for several decades under different names, he said, and they have changed as rigor has increased and they have been benchmarked to international standards. Contrary to what some people have suggested about Common Core, Hull said, the content standards used in the state always have been developed by teams of West Virginia teachers in conjunction with higher education.
In May 2010, the state school board approved the Next Generation Standards, which correspond to the Common Core standards, for English-language arts and math.
“The facts are that the Common Core is a state-led initiative.” – Robert Hull
“The facts are that the Common Core is a state-led initiative,” Hull said. State governors and education commissioners or superintendents developed the Common Core standards, he said, and 46 states plus the District of Columbia have adopted them voluntarily so far. Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia have not adopted the standards, and Minnesota adopted the Common Core for English only, he said.
Hull said the Common Core provides a single set of clear educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade that measure both content and application of knowledge. Having a more rigorous set of standards is designed to ensure all students are prepared for college and career success and to collaborate and compete with their peers in the United States and abroad, he said.
West Virginia did not simply accept the Common Core standards as developed by the multi-state consortium, Hull said, but had teams of West Virginia teachers examine the standards and put them into the West Virginia framework. He said they contain college- and career-readiness benchmarks throughout that align to the Southern Regional Education Board’s framework and similar standards. They are aligned to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the ACT and the SAT, he said, and they are the basis for the new Smarter Balanced Assessment that is being developed for use in the 2014-2015 school year. The standards are benchmarked internationally to prepare students for global competitiveness, he said.
“Kids not only need to know content but need to know how to use it.” – Robert Hull
“Kids not only need to know content but need to know how to use it,” Hull said.
To help people see what has changed, he said, the department has created a “Crosswalk” document to show the similarities and differences between the new Next Generation West Virginia Content Standards and Objectives for Mathematics, which have been aligned with the Common Core, and the current 21st Century Content Standards and Objective for Mathematics in West Virginia Schools.
Official tries to dispel myths about Common Core.
“There’s a lot of misinformation about the Common Core,” Hull said, including the assertion that it is a federal initiative. “It’s a state-level initiative that states can voluntarily adopt.” Each state can add up to 15 percent of its own standards to customize the Common Core to its needs, he added.
Another myth he addressed is that Common Core amounts to a national curriculum that will standardize teaching and learning. “Standards are not a curriculum,” Hull said. “They are simply a list of what kids need to know.” Teachers, principals and superintendents will decide how the standards are to be met, he said.
About the claim that Common Core will bring everyone down to the lowest common denominator, Hull said, the standards instead are designed to build upon the most advanced current thinking about preparing all students for success in college and careers.
On the charge that states will be required to adopt the Common Core to receive federal funding, he said, the federal government does not require the adoption of the Common Core. However, Hull said, it does require states to show that the standards they have are designed to prepare students to be ready for college and careers.
Many states that are adopting the Common Core also are switching to the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which also is coming out of collaboration among a large group of states. In West Virginia, it will replace WESTEST 2 beginning in 2015, although state Supt. Jim Phares said the state might use the name WESTEST 3 for it. Hull addressed the claim that the Smarter Balanced Assessment will put students’ privacy at risk. He said states will continue to make all policy decisions in regard to the collection, storage and use of student assessment data. The multi-state consortium will not share identifiable student-level data with the federal government, he said, and legislation already prohibits the creation of a federal database with information that identifies students personally.
Yet another claim that Hull said is not true is that states are selling student-level data to vendors and corporations. Out of necessity, states have contracted with partners to securely manage, analyze and store their data so they can provide timely, meaningful and useful information to schools, he said, but the state always maintains ownership of the data, and vendors cannot use the information for other purposes.
“States will continue to make all policy decisions with regard to the collection, storage and use of student assessment data,” Hull said.
“West Virginia has never had a recommended reading list for teachers nor does the Common Core.” – Robert Hull
Likewise, he said, it is a myth that Common Core has a required reading list of texts that all teachers must use. Hull said the writers of the standards intentionally did not include required, or even recommended, texts for classroom use. “West Virginia has never had a recommended reading list for teachers nor does the Common Core,” he said. Teachers will select appropriately complex texts based on the interests and needs of particular students, he said.
Some opponents of the Common Core have claimed it has very narrow partisan support, but Hull said it actually has broad bipartisan report. Sen. Joe Manchin, who was governor of West Virginia when much of the foundation for Common Core was laid, is among the Democrats who have expressed support for it. Republicans who support it include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Legislators express misgivings about Common Core.
Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, one of the legislators who have expressed misgivings about Common Core, said she wants to see the international benchmarks to which the standards are pegged. She also asked why West Virginia was among the 23 states developing the Smarter Balanced Assessments.
Juan D’Brot, executive director of the Office of Assessment and Accountability, said it began when Steve Payne was state superintendent and also was a member of a micro-consortium with three or four states that had a common vision about assessments. There were pockets of other state education chiefs across the country that then came together to put together common visions, he said, and the result is the Smarter Balanced Assessment.
“Our belief was that, because we have the same vision and a similar set of standards against which we’re measuring students, why not pull our resources and create really a better system with fewer of our own resources, and capitalize on everyone else’s resources?” – Juan D’Brot
“You can compare what the consortium’s doing to what we did in the past,” D’Brot said. “A state has always been required to create an assessment for students at the end of the year that’s aligned with standards. So our choices were to go at it with these three or four states, to do it with all states joined together, or to go it alone. Our belief was that, because we have the same vision and a similar set of standards against which we’re measuring students, why not pull our resources and create really a better system with fewer of our own resources, and capitalize on everyone else’s resources?”
The way the consortium works is that all the states must agree with any decision, he said.
Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, said he had done some research and traveled to Notre Dame University for a conference about the Common Core. He said a child psychologist, Megan Koschnik, and other experts said the Common Core standards would harm students and make it difficult for them to learn. So he asked whether West Virginia had had any child psychologists look at the standards.
Hull said the state has not done that, but the new standards are not remarkably different than previous standards. “There is a whole group of people that doesn’t believe in standards – period – that you should not have standards,” he added.
“I just wonder if this is something we should look at before we go too far down this road,” Butler said. “Other states are doing this. Michigan is doing it. As mentioned, Florida is kind of backing off of this some.” He added that teachers’ unions in Florida don’t like the Common Core, because they’re afraid the teachers will be punished for the performance of students. But Hull said both of the major teachers’ organizations have endorsed Common Core.
Butler then said that, when he was at Notre Dame, he heard from two people who have prepared a white paper against the Common Core: James Milgram, a professor of mathematics at Stanford University, and Sandra Stotsky, who helped write the curriculum for Massachusetts. He said Milgram criticized the standards for not being high enough and Stotsky took issue with what would be taught under Common Core. As a parent, he said, he never heard anything about the problems with Common Core and he wanted legislators to look into it more.
To that, Hull said the math standards have been endorsed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and other groups.
When Butler asked about the cost of adopting the new standards, Phares said there always is a cost to bring people together to work on any new standards. But he said the Education Department is repurposing about $2.5 million in professional development money and sending it out to the Regional Education Service Agencies and counties to help teachers develop their curricula and strategies. Likewise, he said, 16 professional development positions have been reassigned from the state department to the RESAs. People at the RESAs and in the counties are using the positive statements they have gotten about the standards, as well as statements from the critics, he said.
Phares said he has more concerns about broadband access for schools than anything else. The final WESTEST 2 will be conducted online to help work out glitches before the state goes to the new assessment, he said.
But Butler said he had received information that there will be substantial costs to the state, and it will require the creation of a few new positions at the state level. D’Brot said that might be a reference to the longitudinal data system the state is developing using a $4.8 million federal grant, which includes funding for four temporary positions. He said the goal is to have better data that lead to better education policy decisions. It will make the administration of the assessment and reporting of it more efficient, he said.
Phares said department officials are willing to come back to explain the longitudinal data system to legislators. House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, said the Joint Standing Committee on Education might schedule a meeting on that.
Delegate worries about testing.
Despite Hull’s earlier explanation about Common Core and the Smarter Balanced Assessment, Delegate George Ambler, R-Greenbrier, still expressed concern about rumors that the 23-state Smarter Balanced consortium was setting standards for West Virginia. He wondered how much input West Virginia teachers had on the changes. Hull said West Virginia teachers spent at least 100 hours working on the standards. He said the state school board also put them out for comment for 60 days. “Our old standards were just so broad,” he added.
Asked whether students would be tested more often or if results would come back quickly, Phares said he wasn’t sure how quickly the data would come back in the first couple of years. When West Virginia starts giving the Smarter Balanced Assessment in 2015, the state will link the results back to the WESTEST 2 results, which could slow up the reporting of results, he said. The further the state gets into the transition the quicker the data should come back, he said. Also, Phares said, the ultimate goal is to limit the time spent on testing and going to computerized-based tests is a way to do that.
Ambler, who is a teacher, said the WESTEST has had no student accountability; so many students have not cared about how they answer the questions. He asked if the new test would require more accountability from students.
Phares said there always will be students who don’t care about how they do on assessment tests. But with the Smarter Balanced Assessment, the education system will be able to hold them accountable more intrinsically, because the student growth data will be much more accurate and easier for parents to understand, he said.
“I think because of parents’ access to their individual student data, we’re going to build some allies,” Phares said. Also, he intends to recommend that schools use the assessment results to determine whether students matriculate to the next grade, as is done in other states. “That’s going to have major implications, and there’ll be blowback from various pockets throughout the state as to whether to do that,” he warned.
“Somewhere, there’s hope that the students will be accountable.” – Delegate George Ambler
Ambler said that made him feel a lot better. “Somewhere, there’s hope that the students will be accountable,” he said.
Phares replied, “I believe we have to weather the storm in this if we’re really going to make a difference in student achievement.”
Delegate David Evans, R-Marshall, is a retired teacher who expressed another concern about the new standards and assessment. He said many people don’t have confidence in the government to maintain records anymore. He also asked whether the changes would solve the problem of having students moving on to the next grade without having the ability to read.
Phares said, “There’s a major emphasis right now of the high-quality educators committee on proficiency of every elementary teacher being able to teach reading.”
On the issue of data security, D’Brot said, “I think it’s very healthy to be skeptical about what the federal government claims about student data privacy, which is why we’ve taken it on ourselves to go above and beyond what the federal requirements are.”
Evans then raised the issue of whether students of different abilities should be taught in the same classroom. Phares said there are people on both sides of that issue.
“I think the data collection we have on individual student progress will help ease that some, and I do believe that there are strategies that schools use for infusing those students together but also for providing enrichment and extended teaching service for others,” he said. “There’s both sides of the fence on that. Those who tend to be most vocal on that are the ones that tend to not want to teach a certain group.”
Evans disagreed. “I’ve seen teachers that really do not do the job,” he said. “It’s great to have these standards. It’s great to have it on paper, but what you have in the classroom is a different thing.”
Poling said she hoped the new evaluation system would move bad teachers out of the system.
Boards put extra money into salaries
By Jim Wallace
The state Education Department has found that most school boards are using the additional funding they receive as a result of changes in the School Air Formula on salaries.
State Supt. Jim Phares told members of the Legislative Oversight Committee on Education Accountability that the department surveyed districts to find out what they did with the money during the 2012-2013 school year after the Legislature increased their local share funds from 2 percent to 10 percent. He said the results were:
- Twelve boards used portions of their state aid funds to increase salary supplements or benefits from the previous year. Three of them used 100 percent of the additional funds to provide such increases.
- Forty-nine boards used the additional state aid funds to maintain current salaries and benefits, as many of them had done in previous years. Fifteen of them used 100 percent of the additional funds for that purpose.
- Thirty boards used portions of the funds to pay the salaries of personnel employed in excess of the number funded through the formula and/or to cover general operating expenses.
Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, noted that Senate Bill 80, which the Legislature passed this year, requires the use of central office persons with teaching qualifications to serve as substitutes in classrooms. Phares said many superintendents have told him they are using those people to fill in for teachers receiving professional development and to cover for teachers participating in the hiring procedure. He said the department will conduct a survey halfway through the school year.
House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, said one reason for increasing the local share was to make salaries more competitive. Phares responded, “I think that’s the true power in all of the legislation.” Poling said almost $39 million has been provided to the counties for local flexibility. She called it an overlooked flexibility measure, and Phares agreed.
First results come in from new accountability system.
On another subject, Phares said the state’s new accountability system for schools and their students is showing mixed results. The state switched to the new system after getting a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law. In the new system, Phares said, test results more effectively identify struggling schools, provide individual student growth data, better direct resources to struggling schools and recognize schools that are doing well.
The latest test results show a mixture of positive results as well as several areas that must be improved, he said. Since 2010, the tests have been tougher, but Phares said students still are showing improvement.
Under the new accountability system, schools and students receive scores for factors such as:
- Whether students are meeting grade-level expectations;
- How much a school has closed its achievement gap among groups of students; and
- How much students are improving academically no matter their current level of performance
“The old model of comparing one school to other schools doesn’t fit with this.” – Supt. Jim Phares
“The old model of comparing one school to other schools doesn’t fit with this,” Phares said.
The new system categorizes schools according to academic progress. Each school is designated as a Success, Transition, Focus, Support or Priority school. The number of schools at each level is:
- Success 184
- Transition 251
- Focus 97
- Support 89
- Priority 31
Phares said the good news is that 435 are rated as Success or Transition schools, so they are showing improvements in either academic proficiency or student growth or both. He explained that a Transition school has a glitch somewhere along the line that prevents it from being rated a Success school. A Focus school has a major gap in achievement, he said, and a Support school has issues that run the gamut. About 60 schools had coding errors, such as identifying students in the wrong grade level, he said. Among them, 22 appealed their classifications and 19 were successful in getting their classification changed, he said.
Other highlights of the accountability system that Phares presented to legislators include:
- Five-year student proficiency trends indicate that students at all grade levels showed improvements in math, reading/language arts, science and social studies on the WESTEST 2.
- In math, 46 percent of students were “accountable,” and in reading, 49 percent were “accountable.”
- Of the students who met the proficiency levels for math and reading, a large percentage are slated to continue to grow or exceed expectations in the future.
- Areas for improvement include:
- From 2012 to 2013, the number of students who met the proficiency mark on the WESTEST 2 decreased.
- Data indicate that West Virginia students are not closing the gap fast enough to meet national expectations.
- Of the students who did not meet proficiency rates in math, 73 percent showed no academic improvement.
- Of the students who did not meet proficiency rates in reading, 68 percent showed no academic improvement.
“We’re growing, but we’re not nearly growing fast enough. We still have a group of students who struggle to keep up with their peers as far as proficiency is concerned.” – Supt. Jim Phares
“We’re growing, but we’re not nearly growing fast enough,” Phares said. “We still have a group of students who struggle to keep up with their peers as far as proficiency is concerned.”
Again, he emphasized that the new accountability system is not about comparing one school to another but about keeping an eye on the finish line no matter where a student starts and moving that student forward to proficiency. Teams from the Department of Education and the Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) will continue to work with schools, Phares said, and the department will reach out to school system leaders to help identify how resources can be reallocated to areas of need.
But House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, wondered whether schools are prepared to explain the results of the new system to parents. Phares said the department tried to get out front in explaining it to superintendents, principals and teachers. He said parents can get the information directly, and a lot of information is available.
However, Poling said analyzing the classifications is complex. Phares said the department and schools need to guard against letting parents read the classifications as a scale of grades. It’s easy for schools to slide out of the Success category, he said, and that can happen in a year.
“We want schools to improve,” Phares said. “It takes [away] the superficial rating system we’ve had in the past that doesn’t really reflect how kids are doing. This one does.”
Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, asked whether the state might see a sharp drop in students’ test scores when West Virginia moves to using the Smarter Balanced Assessment in 2015 rather than WESTEST 2. Phares said that shouldn’t happen because the state already is embedding within the WESTEST 2 questions that are similar to those in the National Assessment of Education Progress. Juan D’Brot, executive director of the Office of Assessment and Accountability, added that the department will be able to link data between WESTEST 2 and the Smarter Balanced Assessment.
Phares said the results of the 2013 ACT college admissions test reflect two notable changes:
- Results for students who tested with extended time accommodations are included, and 2 percent of West Virginia students did take the ACT with that accommodation.
- Two of the college readiness benchmarks have changed. The benchmark for science went from 24 to 23, while the benchmark for reading went from 21 to 22. The change in the science benchmark caused the number of students who met that benchmark to increase, but the change in the reading benchmark resulted in no difference.
The total number of West Virginia students who took the ACT declined from 2012 to 2013 from 11,719 (68 percent of graduates) to 11,426 (63 percent of graduates). West Virginia’s ACT composite held steady at 20.6 while the national composite declined from 21.1 to 20.9 in that period. The percentage of students who met college readiness benchmarks in English and reading exceeded national percentages – 69 percent versus 64 percent for English and 45 percent versus 44 percent for reading. But West Virginia students lagged behind national averages in mathematics (33 percent versus 44 percent), science (34 percent versus 36 percent) and meeting all four benchmarks (20 percent versus 26 percent).
Phares also reported on the results of the ACT Compass college placement test that was administered to high school seniors in Transition Mathematics for seniors’ courses and the pilot English 12 College and Career Ready courses in December 2012 and January 2013. Compass was administered to high school students for the first time in the 2011-2012 school year, he said. Students who took Compass during the fall of 2012 outperformed the students who took Compass the prior year:
- The average pre-algebra score increased from 46.9 to 47.8.
- The average algebra score increased from 36.5 to 38.6.
- The average writing skills score increased from 49.7 to 68.1.
- The percentage of students taking the Compass mathematics test who met the Higher Education Policy Commission’s pre-algebra benchmark increased from 24 percent to 25 percent.
- The percentage of students taking the Compass mathematics test who met the HEPC algebra benchmark increased from 13 percent to 17 percent.
- The percentage of students taking the Compass algebra test who met the HEPC algebra benchmark increased from 43 percent to 49 percent.
- The percentage of students taking the Compass writing skills test who met the HEPC benchmark increased from 24 percent to 53 percent. (The English 12 College and Career Ready course was piloted in seven high schools in 2011-2012.)
- The number of students who earned the high score of 99 on the COMPASS writing skills test increased from one student to 58 students.
This year, all juniors are required to take COMPASS in January or February, Phares said, and if they meet the readiness benchmarks, they will not have to take remedial courses in college.
However, Poling pointed out that Bruce Vandal of the Complete College America organization made presentations to legislators in two other meetings and said that Compass is a not a predictor of college success in gateway courses.
Phares responded, “He may be correct in that, but in West Virginia, that’s what they use.” He added that, in 2015, when West Virginia switches to the Smarter Balanced Assessment, education officials should be able to use that as an indicator of college and career readiness.
Some policies have changed.
The state school board has made changes in a few policies, so Phares gave the legislators a review of those changes:
- Policy 2520.35: 21st Century Science 9-12 Content Standards and Objectives for West Virginia Schools – The policy requires a third science credit above biology for graduation. The update defines the content, standards and objectives for a forensic science course that students may use as the third credit.
- Policy 5100: The Approval of Educational Personnel Preparation Programs – The revisions address Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s challenge to ensure all children are reading on grade level at third grade by incorporating a requirement for a reading assessment for elementary education teacher candidates and requiring the praxis for admission into teacher education programs. Changes also were made to clarify field and clinical practicum requirements, to revise the requirements for gifted and special education program admission, and to update terminology.
- Policy 5202: Minimum Requirements for the Licensure of Professional/Paraprofessional Personnel and Advanced Salary Classification – The update reflects similar changes made to Policy 5100 to ensure all children are reading on grade level at third grade by incorporating a requirement for a reading assessment for elementary education teacher candidates and requiring the praxis for admission into teacher education programs.
More information on policies is available at: http://wvde.state.wv.us/policies/.
When Perry asked whether there are any problems with the new school calendar requirements, Phares said, “No, I think it’s more flexible than it’s ever been. The counties just have to make a determination. The language has been removed both in the code and in the policy for having three days prior to the start of school, but there’s nothing that prohibits a county from doing that. That’s a decision made by local calendar committees.”
“We’re going to guarantee that schools will be in 180 days.” – Supt. Jim Phares
Previously, he said, everything about the calendar was proscribed. “Now they have the freedom and the luxury to listen to their committees and move that way,” Phares said, as long as districts have 180 days of instruction, give teachers 200 days of employment and have seven holidays. “We’re going to guarantee that schools will be in 180 days,” he said.
On another matter, Phares said the state board received 99 waiver requests from Local School Improvement Councils (LSICs), including 30 first-time requests and two requests for Innovation Zones from Monroe and Nicholas counties. The board approved 97 requests and rejected two, he said.
Also, he gave legislators the Dangerous Student Report. Phares said that, during the 2012-2013 school year, there were no reported incidents of students being expelled from any county under the “dangerous student” category. However, he said there were 1,923 Level 4 behaviors reported.
“When you consider that we’re gleaning this data from 282,000 students and you look at the percentage, it’s a very small percentage compared to the student population,” Phares said. No student was identified as having a serious pattern of behavior, he said. When a student is identified as dangerous, a district is no longer required to provide an education to that student, he said, but districts must still provide education to other expelled students. So, he said, it’s very hard to meet the benchmark of designating a student as dangerous.
West Virginia works to get more students through college
By Jim Wallace
West Virginia is trying to get more students to complete college by helping them avoid getting bogged down in remedial courses. It’s not alone in that effort. It is among 34 states in an alliance called Complete College America. Although much of the effort is on the higher education level, many legislators and others want the state’s secondary education system to help in reducing the need for students to take remedial courses when they reach college.
“West Virginia is one of the leading states when it comes to innovating on developmental education.” – Bruce Vandal
“West Virginia is one of the leading states when it comes to innovating on developmental education,” Bruce Vandal, vice president of Complete College America, told two legislative panels. He spoke to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability and the Select Committee on Outcomes-Based Funding Models in Higher Education. He said many students take too much time, take too many credits and spend too much money on college without graduating.
“Time is the enemy,” Vandal said, because the longer students are enrolled in college the less likely they will graduate. His statistics showed that of those who do gradate, fulltime students were taking 3.9 years to complete two-year associate degrees and 4.9 years to complete four-year bachelor’s degrees at non-flagship universities. (Part-time students took 5.5 years and 6.7 years respectively.) Likewise, those getting associate degrees earned an average of 78.8 credits rather than the 60 credits needed, and those getting bachelor’s degrees accumulated an average of 136.2 credits rather than the required 120 credits.
Only 5.0 percent of students getting associate degrees and 18.1 percent of students getting bachelor’s degrees graduate on time, while only 12.9 percent of students in associate degree programs and 43.2 percent of those in bachelor’s degree programs graduate at all.
“We have a leaky pipeline,” Vandal said.
One of the main problems he cited is that too many students – 51.7 percent in two-year colleges and 19.9 percent in four-year colleges – start college with remedial courses, and most of them never graduate. Vandal said 70 percent of students placed into remedial courses fail to enroll in gateway courses within two academic years. Gateway courses are the introductory subject courses that students take when they don’t need remedial courses. West Virginia is among nine states playing significant roles in working on strategies to overcome those trends, Vandal said.
One way of doing that, he said, is to see that students can get remedial material as part of the gateway courses. Vandal offered these policy objectives for gateway course success:
- Math pathways shall be aligned with programs.
- Gateway courses shall be the default placement for most students.
- Students requiring academic support shall receive it as a co-requisite.
- Placement shall match students to the appropriate level of co-requisite support.
- Student success metrics should be used to set performance benchmarks and create financial incentives to increase completion of gateway courses within one academic year.
“Mathematics is the biggest hurdle for students going to college,” Vandal said. Part of the problem, he said, is that many institutions require students to take college algebra, but it often is not necessary for their fields of study. The alternative he suggested is to develop multiple pathways in math, which Marshall University is using. For example, students in psychology, nursing, political science and business/marketing majors could take a statistics pathway. Those in journalism, graphic design, foreign language and law enforcement majors could take a quantitative literacy pathway. And those in math education, engineering, computer science and biology majors could take a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) pathway.
“This is what we call a game-changer strategy,” Vandal said.
Senator wants cooperation between public education and higher education.
But Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, expressed confusion. He said West Virginia’s public education system is trying to realign its courses from middle school up to prepare students better for post-secondary education or readiness for careers. Marshall University, which is in Plymale’s district, had not notified legislators the changes it has made, he said, and he wondered if the college-level changes are being made with the secondary-level changes in mind.
Vandal said he knew that West Virginia is improving standards in middle school and high school. “We support that,” he said. “But students are still assessed in college.” He said no one is arguing about compromising standards in the public education system.
Plymale said math seems to be the stumbling block for many students, so he wants to give students options as early as middle school. He said the public education system has chosen a model from the Southern Regional Education board that includes options for career-technical education certification. He suggested that the model Vandal was proposing goes a bit against that.
Although Vandal said his organization supports the SREB model, colleges and universities still need to serve students, including nontraditional adult students, who are unprepared for some of the demand of college courses.
“We want to get on track before the train goes off it.” – Sen. Bob Plymale
To that, Plymale said, “We want to get on track before the train goes off it.” Vandal replied, “We think it’s really a both-ends strategy.”
Plymale said both systems are using pathways, but they’re at different times in people’s lives.
Sen. Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel, supported the effort to downplay the importance of algebra. He said that, as a teacher in the public schools, he taught algebra but did not use it outside of school. “Why give students a class they struggle in?” he asked.
Vandal said Marshall University is just getting started in providing different math pathways and with the second strategy of putting more students into gateway courses and providing them support simultaneously for the remedial instruction they need. That strategy of co-requisite education is effective for a high percentage of students, he said. In particular, he said, Austin Peay State University in Tennessee has seen the success rates of students improve from 6 percent to more than 50 percent through the use of co-requisite education. Some states, including Colorado, Indiana and Connecticut, are making it a priority for both four-year and two-year schools.
Plymale said most enrollment at community and technical colleges consists of students who are ages 23 and older. He said he likes it that Compete College America is addressing math education based on field of study.
Under the traditional system, Vandal said, students take placement exams once and then are put into either gateway or remedial courses based on the results, which means the exams have big effects. By contrast, he said, in the system of co-requisite courses, tests have lower stakes. It is assumed that most students will be put into gateway courses that are designed to accommodate those who also need remedial material, he said, but although the tests don’t have as high stakes, it is important for them to collect the right data.
“If you implement these models, you will see dramatic increases in student success.” – Bruce Vandal
“If you implement these models, you will see dramatic increases in student success,” Vandal said.
Plymale said legislators want to receive data that are unfiltered so they can tell exactly what higher education institutions are doing. Vandal said data submission requirements are part of being in Complete College America. “We want to support you,” he said. “We want to share among the states.”
The organization has helped West Virginia get data systems talking to each other, as well as helped show the need for the changes Plymale said. Vandal responded, “I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen so far.”
West Virginia is one of nine states working on an initiative.
Patrick Crane, director of policy and strategic initiatives for the Higher Education Policy Commission, said 14 members of a team from West Virginia attended a meeting in Indiana in August. He said that meeting was for nine states ready to take the next step in the process, which has been going on for two and a half years. He credited Jim Skidmore, chancellor of the Community and Technical College System of West Virginia, with getting it started and said every public college and university in the state now is involved in it. About 75 percent of the institutions have joined one or more course initiatives, he said.
Looking at co-curricular models is critical, Crane said. The four-year institutions are working on math and English courses with those structures, he said, but the community and technical colleges are ahead in the process. He said they are among 118 institutions in the nation that are engaged in the process.
House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, asked whether other states made changes through legislation or administrative policy. Vandal said they have taken a variety of approaches. For example, Tennessee let its higher education system design the policies before legislators passed a law that tied in performance measures. In Connecticut, legislators ruffled feathers by passing a law that propelled the changes.
Asked if West Virginia is well on its way, Vandal said, it is and much is going on.
Sen. Bill Laird, D-Fayette, expressed concern about sacrificing academic rigor in the interest of getting more students to complete college. But Vandal said Complete College America has balanced quality, rigor and access. He said his organization has never argued for the lowering of standards. He added that the Common Core standards, which West Virginia is adopting, will ask more of students in high school.
Employee groups want more changes in education system
By Jim Wallace
Officials from two education employee groups are urging legislators to make more reforms in the public education system, while a third groups mainly wants to wait to see how this year’s reforms work out before more changes are made.
The American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia wants to see more professional development and collaboration opportunities for teachers and “wraparound services” for students.
“Decision-making at the local level is a critical element in the success of any project or program,” AFT-WV President Christine Campbell told members of Education Subcommittee C. The people who are most aware of local challenges are those who live in communities around the state, she said.
“Professional development is one of the most important elements of comprehensive school reform.” – Christine Campbell
“AFT-West Virginia believes professional support, collaboration and availability of resources at the local level will ensure a successful public education system,” Campbell said. “Professional development is one of the most important elements of comprehensive school reform.”
Teachers must be actively involved in choosing professional development, she said, and it must be job-embedded and site-specific. Campbell said professional development is more valued and relevant when it’s integrated into the normal workday rather than having teachers go to Charleston or Morgantown or some other location to receive it. She suggested that national board-certified teachers could be used for training other teachers in their own schools.
Another resource she offered is AFT’s Educational Research and Dissemination Program, which has many certified instructors available. Campbell said it would be more cost-effective than bringing in high-priced instructors from outside the state.
Teachers also need opportunities for collaboration, she said, but Instructional Support and Enhancement Days no longer exist as a result of the Legislature’s loosening of restrictions on developing school calendars, she said, and that is costing teachers opportunities for professional development and collaboration.
“A possible solution is to look at our 180-day calendar as instructional hours instead of days,” Campbell said. “This would allow the flexibility to use accrued time for instructional support and enhancement.”
“Wraparound services offer an opportunity for parents, businesses, health care providers and school personnel to work together for the children in their community.” – Christine Campbell
In other businesses, employees can leave their cubicles to get help from other employees, she said, but teachers can’t do that. “Educators depend on collaboration to meet the ever-changing needs of their students,” Campbell said.
The reason she gave for schools to offer students wraparound services, such as health care and crisis intervention, is that many students do not get such help outside of school. “Wraparound services offer an opportunity for parents, businesses, health care providers and school personnel to work together for the children in their community,” Campbell said. “Reconnecting McDowell is an excellent example of a public-private partnership to address all the external factors that affect student achievement. Crisis intervention, after-school programs, parent involvement activities and on-site health care all address the needs of the whole child.”
Professional development, collaboration opportunities and wraparound services allow flexibility for increased student achievement at the local level, she said, but that’s not all that teachers want. At the AFT’s annual meeting in Charleston, improving salaries was at the top of the list of participants, Campbell said. Teachers also expressed serious concerns about class size and school safety, which could be correlated, she said. Children face more challenges outside of school, she said, so more counselors and support for social services are needed.
Campbell said that, during the 18 years she worked as a teacher, she saw decision-making move farther and farther away from the classroom. The education reforms adopted this year by the Legislature and the state school board were meant to reverse that trend, but she said more must be done.
“I believe the future of West Virginia depends on our public school system,” Campbell said. “I believe our teachers and the communities are the keys to the success of the system, and I believe our children deserve it.”
Legislators have questions.
Sen. Greg Tucker, D-Nicholas, asked how the schools are affected by the many families with drug problems. Campbell said many children have hunger and other issues that must be addressed, and the only way to do that is to bring wraparound services into the schools. She said schools also are coping with an increase in autism and other special needs among students. In addition, she said, safety is a big issue, because some teachers face physical abuse.
Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, R-Putnam, asked whether it is easier or harder for teachers to schedule collaboration time with the new calendar rules. Campbell said the calendar used to be required to have five Instructional Support and Enhancement (ISE) days during which schools had two hours of tutoring, two hours of continuing education for teachers and two hours for faculty senate meetings. Now, she said, schools are required to have four faculty senate meetings each year, but no time is set aside for them, so schools will have to start later or let students out early four times a year. Also, she said, there is no time in the school day for professional development.
Again, Campbell suggested using expert teachers, such as those with national board certification, for professional development in the schools. The Center for Professional Development doesn’t offer job-embedded training, she said. Some counties have contracted for job-embedded training, she said, but they don’t get any state support for it.
Hall said her point was well taken. It makes sense that professional development would be better in the classroom than elsewhere, he said, and little collaboration among teachers occurs. Hall’s wife has worked in the public schools.
Campbell said some principals have used creative scheduling to provide time for professional development and collaboration, but it’s not easy. Asked by Hall whether those principals work within the rules or around them, Campbell said are no rules that teachers must have collaboration time. The principals use flex time to give opportunities to groups of teachers for team planning each week, she said, but as class sizes increase and the number of teachers decrease, it makes it impossible.
“We all hang on for dear life and hope to survive.” – Christine Campbell
Asked what happens in classrooms after the WESTEST is given in May, Campbell said, “We all hang on for dear life and hope to survive.” She said she gave her students a project they had to complete, but many kids figure their year is over after the test.
When asked about the spectrum of issues that children with special needs have, Campbell said the number of such kids in the classroom depends on the special education director. There is an ongoing debate over which kids can be mainstreamed and which must be self-contained, she said, and it changes constantly. She said there has been a remarkable increase in the rate of autism from one in 1,000 to one in 130 students.
Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, said he was concerned about taking nationally certified teachers out of their classrooms to help other teachers with professional development. He said the most frequent complaint he gets about schools is that teachers are missing from their classrooms too often.
“Teacher morale is down so much,” Campbell replied, adding that she’d like to look at the reasons for absenteeism. “But the professional development that we have available to us right now also takes us out of the classroom and is a waste of our time.”
Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, asked whether some of the issues children face could be dealt with better at home rather than through wraparound services at school. But Campbell responded, “They’re not being dealt with at home. I would love for them to be dealt with at home, but that’s not happening.” She said some children eat only at school, some have no heat in their homes, and some have no adult supervision when they get home.
“I would rather have extended school time for them to be doing something that’s beneficial to them than to send them to an empty house or they’re roaming the streets,” Campbell said. “And that’s what’s happening.”
When Butler suggested it would be better for West Virginia to spend resources on families outside the schools, Campbell said she didn’t know how to do that. But you can pull the services into the schools, where teachers already are committed to the kids, she said.
Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, said he agreed that a great deal of absenteeism is created by staff development activities. He asked if there would be more time for professional development if the state started measuring class time by instructional minutes instead of instructional days. Campbell said that is an option that “opens up the day.” Because of bus schedules, many students and teachers are in school longer each day than is required.
School service personnel want formula changes.
Jackee Long of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association called for changes in the School Aid Formula. She said service personnel often don’t get the credit they deserve, but they play valuable roles. The formula works against allowing county boards to hire enough service personnel to get work done adequately, she said.
“Many service personnel are working over the number of hours of employment per day and working through lunch to get their job done.” – Jackee Long
Noting that formula was changed in 2008 to account for high-, medium- and low-density populations, Long said, “This change helped a little but not enough to make a big difference. Many service personnel are working over the number of hours of employment per day and working through lunch to get their job done.”
Cooks are begging for more help, she said. They want to do well, because they realize many children don’t eat outside of school, she said, but they find it impossible to meet all the demands on them. In many cases, Long said, they don’t even have proper equipment to do good jobs.
Cafeteria managers not only are cooking but also have hours of paperwork to do, she said. One cafeteria manager starts work at 5:15 a.m. just to get the paperwork done before her regular work starts, she said. Custodians and secretaries are in similar situations, Long said, because they stay later but still can’t finish all the work they must do. In addition, she said, the number of aides is being reduced, so children get less time with them.
“Any improvement to the State Aid Formula would be greatly appreciated,” Long said.
Another complaint she mentioned is that service personnel are supposed to be evaluated annually, but some haven’t been evaluated for years. “It seems that each county has a different evaluation form for service personnel,” Long added, saying some forms just indicate whether an employee meets or doesn’t meet standards without providing any comments.
“I’d like employees to know how they’re performing, good or bad,” she said. “Many times, employees will get a favorable evaluation just so the next principal or supervisor will hire them or that the next principal will take them. If employees are evaluated correctly, some of the not-so-good employees might be weeded out.”
Long said workers sometimes get glowing evaluations when everyone knows they are not such good employees. It’s easier to get rid of bad employees in the first three years, but that isn’t done, and those employees tend to get tenure, she said.
As a way of helping new substitutes learn their responsibilities, Long suggested having a job-shadowing program for them. They should follow employees for three days to see what the jobs are really like, she said, because working in the private sector and working in a school system are entirely different regardless of experience.
Yet another issue Long complained about involved the state code requirement for county school boards to set up staff development councils to come up with meaningful standards for service personnel. Some counties do it well, she said, but others don’t have the councils at all.
“Service personnel want staff development. They want to do a good job in their classification, but when they’re not getting the proper training they need, it’s hard for them to keep up to date on what’s next.” – Jackee Long
“Service personnel want staff development,” Long said. “They want to do a good job in their classification, but when they’re not getting the proper training they need, it’s hard for them to keep up to date on what’s next.”
Further, she called for help on the issue of classroom aides. The Legislature found several years ago that it’s not in the best interest of a student with autism or similar problems to have multiple teachers and aides, Long said, but she has been getting calls from some autism aides who say they’re being required to rotate every 15 days.
“It seems many times the Legislature makes a law and the county boards decide if they want to follow it or not,” she said.
In addition, Long said, many classroom aides get qualified to become teachers only to find that they would lose seniority by doing so. She suggested that their experience at least should be prorated.
Perry said he had heard that some county boards are not adhering to state code or policy. He asked if legislators should look at changing the grievance procedure. Long said law judges sometimes make situations worse. Sometimes, a simple law turns into a fiasco, she said. At other times, she said, superintendents know a grievance procedure would take a year to resolve, and the issue would be moot by the time it is settled.
WVEA wants to hold off on most changes.
Misty Peal of the West Virginia Education Association urged caution on the part of legislators in making more changes in education law. She said Senate Bill 359, this year’s big education reform bill, handed over a great deal of control to counties. Hiring practices were opened, boards received great latitude on calendars and other changes were made, she said. The WVEA believes it is too early to encourage more changes, because problems arose in several counties, she said.
“The Legislature should take time to evaluate the ramifications of [Senate Bill] 359 and assess its impact on county schools and employees. We see no need to rush to make further changes to a system that’s currently under construction.” – Misty Peal
“The Legislature should take time to evaluate the ramifications of [Senate Bill] 359 and assess its impact on county schools and employees,” Peal said. “We see no need to rush to make further changes to a system that’s currently under construction. It’s additionally difficult to envision how a state government-funded system would allow for true local control at this point. Limits imposed by the current tax structure, levy caps and also methods for School Aid Formulas create a system that supports a strong central state government with oversight.”
The Recht decision resulted when there wasn’t enough accountability in the system, she said. That court decision about 30 years ago required many changes to ensure the public education system was fair and equitable across the state.
“Some counties may not be as poised as others to receive more responsibilities and duties,” Peal said. “Let’s step back and see how [Senate Bill] 359 evolves.”
However, she said, more flexibility could be granted in professional development. Selection of courses should occur at the local level, Peal said, and sessions should be held at the schools and be based on their needs.
“WVEA believes in allowing educators to educate and leaders to lead,” she said. “Educators should be allowed to determine what, when and how instruction is delivered.”
Also, Peal said, teachers must have time to collaborate so they can improve student achievement.
Asked for more specifics about problems resulting from education reforms, she said there are some concerns about the hiring procedure. In some cases, faculty senates have not been involved in the interview process, Peal said, and in some counties, administrators selected teachers to participate instead of having them be elected by their peers.
Tucker said he received reports that some faculty senates were prevented from participating in the process. He said such issues might have to be addressed through legislation. But Barnes said it sounded as though the problems stemmed from people not following the procedures provided for by legislation. Tucker said he heard there were different interpretations of the language in the code. Peal said both seemed to be problems.
Tucker said this is the first year for the new policy, so legislators probably would look into the problems if they continue.
Educators and Legislators eagerly await longitudinal data system
By Jim Wallace
West Virginia legislators want to know what graduates of the state’s high schools tend to do after graduation. The answers members of Education Subcommittee A received from representatives of the public education system and the higher education system could be graded as incomplete, but those officials said they expect to be able to supply more information in time for the 2014 legislative session.
Donna Peduto, director of operations for the state school board, said high school graduates have avenues they can take other than going to college, including the military and employment. She said a longitudinal database that tracks students from preschool through college, often called the P-20 database, will reveal what routes those graduates take. It should be available in time for the next legislative session, she said, but in the meantime, the West Virginia Report Card 2012 provides what information is available now, she said.
The Report Card is a publication from the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and the Community and Technical College System of West Virginia that has come out annually since 2008.
Like Peduto, Rob Anderson, executive vice chancellor for the HEPC, said both higher education organizations are looking forward to having the longitudinal data system available. He said they’ll be able to look for the first time at those who go directly into the workforce after high school graduation to get their numbers, salaries and occupational fields. Previously, he said, they were hampered by federal restrictions on the use of data from the public education system, but that no longer is the case.
“As we’re starting to realize as a nation, as a state and as policy bodies, we have to be able to tell a story to be able to make policy decisions.” – Rob Anderson
“As we’re starting to realize as a nation, as a state and as policy bodies, we have to be able to tell a story to be able to make policy decisions,” Anderson said. “What they have decided to let states do is to allow these third-party warehouses where the data is kept secured, is de-identified and stripped of any information that would let you say that this is Jim Smith of Parkersburg. All of that’s gone.”
The new longitudinal database will allow the state to aggregate the data and look at trends, he said.
Based on the information already available, Anderson said, students who come from families with lower incomes are less likely to navigate successfully through the college admissions process even if they have good academic qualifications. He said the lack of knowledge about college costs and financial aid can affect enrollment. To counteract that lack of knowledge among students, he said, the higher education system is engaging in several initiatives to get information to high school students.
Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, said he is concerned that high school guidance counselors are overwhelmed and have trouble getting information about college costs and financial aid to students.
“It’s a tough situation to be in for sure,” Anderson said. One way to improve the system is to have some students serve as mentors for their peers, he said. Also, he said, the College Foundation of West Virginia has a website that allows people to look at what all colleges and universities in the state have to offer.
Kathy D’Antoni, associate superintendent of the Education Department’s Division of Technical and Adult Education, told legislators that many high-skilled and high-paying jobs in West Virginia are available to students who complete career-technical education (CTE) programs. She said about 27 percent of students who enter those programs complete them, but the rate should be about 70 percent. Among the completers, 49 percent continue their education and another 40 percent get employment in their field of study, she said. The overall positive placement rate for CTE completers is 92 percent to 93 percent.
Delegate Tiffany Lawrence, D-Jefferson, asked if employers have a general awareness of the value of CTE programs. D’Antoni said the credentials CTE completers get show what skill sets they have. In addition, she said, the Education Department is working closely with businesses and individuals to create simulated workplaces to improve the educational experiences for CTE students.
“That awareness is coming about. It’s not where I want it to be.” – Kathy D’Antoni
“That awareness is coming about,” D’Antoni said. “It’s not where I want it to be.”
Private facilities throughout state receive many students.
Although subcommittees usually hold just one meeting each month, Education Subcommittee A held two during the last set of interim meetings. The other one was for members to get answers to questions about privately owned, licensed residential facilities that receive public funds for housing and treating students who otherwise would attend public schools or receive education at public expense.
Chuck Heinlein, a deputy superintendent in the Education Department, said there are 48 such facilities located in 21 West Virginia counties that serve school-age students. In addition, he said, the Division of Corrections has 11 facilities in 11 counties to serve school-age students.
The Department of Health and Human Resources and the courts assigned 1,078 students to out-of-home placements, both within West Virginia and outside the state. Of those, 826 were place in privately owned facilities inside the state.
The subcommittee heard specifically about the Potomac Center, a residential facility in Romney. Rick Harshbarger, the chief executive officer, said the center has served children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities for more than 33 years. He said it has a special emphasis on keeping West Virginia kids in the state. Those kids attend Hampshire County schools, which Harshbarger described as the center’s partners.
“We all want the same thing: equitable funding for Hampshire County schools and other systems.” – Rick Harshbarger
“We all want the same thing: equitable funding for Hampshire County schools and other systems,” he said.
Harshbarger said school funding should follow the child when a student is placed in a facility outside of the county where the child’s family lives. He said that, when former House Education Chairman Jerry Mezzatesta, D-Hampshire, was in the Legislature, he obtained extra funding for the Hampshire County schools to cover their costs for the Potomac Center students, but that funding dried up after Mezzatesta left office several years ago.
Mike Coleman, director of special education for the Hampshire County schools, said his district has 35 students from the Potomac Center, including 16 placed there by parents and 19 placed by DHHR or the courts. He said the district’s unreimbursed costs for those students total $692,933.97, or about $19,798 per student.
“This is an exorbitant cost for our county to absorb,” Coleman said.
Jodie Gardill of Legal Aid of West Virginia told the subcommittee that it is worthwhile for West Virginia to keep kids in the state, because it saves the state money. Like Harshbarger, she said the money should follow the child.
Asked whether there are many facilities like the Potomac Center, Harshbarger said it isn’t like others, because it deals only with the most challenging children. He said the center tries to reduce their behavior problems and improve their self-help skills.
Heinlein said that, when students are sent to residential centers in different counties, both the sending and receiving school districts get stuck with staffing levels established before those students are transferred.
Sen. Donald Cookman, D-Hampshire, said the Hampshire County schools need help but not at the expense of the Potomac Center.
Some teachers want another chance to change pension plans
By Jim Wallace
Legislators are considering possibly conducting a study to determine whether to give people another chance to switch their pensions from the Teachers’ Defined Contribution (TDC) Plan to the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS). Unions representing teachers have said they would not object to that, but it isn’t high on their legislative agenda.
The issue came up at a meeting for the Joint Standing Committee on Pensions and Retirement. One of the committee’s co-chairmen, Delegate David Pethtel, D-Wetzel, said some of his constituents have requested an opportunity to switch from TDC to TRS.
Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, said her organization has heard from some people upset with the TDC who said that they didn’t have enough information or choice during a previous opportunity to switch. That opportunity came in 2008, when most people in the TDC took advantage of the chance to move over to the TRS, she said. AFT-WV hasn’t asked for another opportunity for people to switch, but it would support it, she said.
“AFT is pleased to have a stable, well-financed retirement system.” – Christine Campbell
“AFT is pleased to have a stable, well-financed retirement system,” Campbell said.
The union’s main concern now is with salaries, which she described as so low they have reached a critical point, because many classrooms lack content-certified teachers. Campbell said West Virginia can’t compete with other states on teachers’ salaries.
“We should all be working together to move education forward,” she said.
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said the state has come a long way toward stabilizing pensions since the early 1990s. The TDC now has $6 billion in assets, he said. But in the late 1990s, many people realized that the TDC had not lived up to expectations, he said, and when they had a chance to switch to TRS in 2008, 80 percent of participants chose to do so.
Lately, Lee said, he has received questions about whether there would be a new window of opportunity. He said a person in the TDC would have to accumulate more than $350,000 to equal what that person would get in the TRS. The 2008 opportunity to switch did not include people who left teaching before then but returned after that. Lee said they had to return to the pension plan they left. “They’re really stuck,” he said.
The WVEA supports the concept of a new opportunity to switch as long as it does not take away from the possibility of getting pay raises for teachers, Lee said, because the pay issue must be addressed.
Pethtel, who said he retired from teaching in June, said he doesn’t want any legislation that allow more switches from TDC to TRS to take the place of pay raises for teachers. Lee said the 2008 switch ended up saving the state about $22 million, so he suggested that legislators should study the issue. Pethtel said he would be open to that.
PEIA premiums will remain the same
By Jim Wallace
The Public Employees Insurance Agency Finance Board has given tentative approval to a plan for the 2014-2015 fiscal year that would result in no increases in health insurance premiums for public employees, including teachers and other school workers.
The only notable changes will be a $100 copayment for non-preferred specialty drugs and a $25 copayment for out-of-state medical services. That’s an attempt to hold down costs for expenses PEIA otherwise can control the least. For example, specialty drugs are among the most expensive that PEIA pays for, and they are the fastest-growing portion of the plan. PEIA Director Ted Cheatham presented the board with information showing the average cost for a specialty drug is about $3,200 and some can cost as much as $25,000 per month.
The $25 copayment for out-of-state care is meant to encourage PEIA members to get more services within West Virginia, because out-of-state providers charge substantially more than in-state providers. For example, Cheatham provided data showing that a screening colonoscopy that costs $932.95 in West Virginia averages $2,317.90 outside the state, which is a 148 percent difference. The difference in the costs of other procedures in the chart he provided ranged from 51 percent to 540 percent higher out of state.
Josh Sword, a Finance Board member, said, “We are attempting to change behavior. How do we know $25 is the right amount?”
Cheatham responded, “I don’t think it is.” But he explained that the agency is trying to move slowly on such changes, indicating the copayment could go higher in future years.
PEIA officials and their actuaries said their ability to avoid a premium rate increase for the third year in a row is partly due to favorable returns on investments and partly a result of keeping costs down. Actuaries reported that, during the past fiscal year, PEIA’s medical expenses actually declined 2.7 percent and drug expenses increased only 4.2 percent.
The agency will take the proposed plan out to six public hearings during November before the Finance Board votes on its final form in December. The schedule of the hearings is:
- November 4 at the Holiday Inn in Martinsburg;
- November 5 at the Ramada Inn in Morgantown;
- November 6 at West Virginia Northern Community College in Wheeling;
- November 11 at Tamarack in Beckley;
- November 12 at the Civic Center in Charleston; and
- November 13 at Marshall University’s medical school in Huntington.
Each hearing is scheduled to run from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
An editing error in the September 27 issue of The Legislature attributed the same quotation to two people. In the main body of the story, “Pressure to improve college graduation rates affects high schools,” Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale was quoted correctly as saying, “We’ve got some institutions that are really financially in trouble.” Unfortunately, in a box next to that portion of the story, the same quotation erroneously was attributed to Paul Hill, chancellor of the Higher Education Policy Commission, and a photo of him accompanied it.
We regret this error. – Howard M. O’Cull, Ed.D., Editor
Editor’s Note – Jim Wallace is a former government reporter for theCharleston Daily Mail, former news director of West Virginia Public Radio and former news director of WWVA/WOVK radio in Wheeling. He now works for TSG Consulting, a public relations and governmental affairs company with offices in Charleston and Beckley. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from The Ohio State University and a master’s degree in journalism from West Virginia University. Wallace is the author of the 2012 book,A History of the West Virginia Capitol: The House of State.