News

May 13, 2014 - Volume 34 Issue 19

 

“Journalism is literature in a hurry.” – Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), British poet and cultural critic.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

The work of the Commission on School District Governance and Administration has taken members into the realm of reforms that could make West Virginia’s public education system unique among the states. One expert working with the commission has suggested that West Virginia could make a “big splash” in education reform if the proposals under consideration are adopted.

Basically, the proposals under consideration would change the roles of the state, regional and local boards that oversee the education system. Also, the commission, which is still formulating its proposals, wants to give school districts more flexibility in using their funds and teachers more flexibility in doing their jobs while meeting goals for improved student achievement.

Members of the commission plan to work out some of the specifics of their proposals when they next meet on June 30. At their May meeting, they considered the views of teachers as gathered by commission members. Some teachers asked for more time to respond, so the commission intends to consider their views at the beginning of the June meeting and give representatives of the West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia the opportunity to speak before settling on the details of the reform recommendations.

Commission members realize that nothing they recommend would be implemented unless the state school board and the legislature accept the proposed reforms, but they want to be bold with their recommendations.

“This is really, really important work. If we don’t paint a picture of what could be, we’ll never get to it.” – Tom Campbell

“This is really, really important work,” Tom Campbell, commission chairman and state school board member, said. “If we don’t paint a picture of what could be, we’ll never get to it.”

 

Commission considers teachers’ views.

In preparation for the May meeting, commission members asked teachers in their home districts to respond to seven sets of questions. They took that approach, because they have decided they must go beyond just their most obvious task of proposing reforms for school district governance and administration. They want any reforms to lead to improvements within each classroom, because that is where education is delivered.

Campbell said he heard from teachers and others that they want to have a simpler education system. “Sometimes, simple is better,” he said.

The commission members who got responses from teachers included: Campbell, who lives in Greenbrier County; Kathy Parker, a member of the Braxton County school board; Doug Lambert, superintendent of the Pendleton County schools; Newt Thomas, a businessman from Kanawha County; Tina Combs, a state school board member from Berkeley County; and Bill Smith, superintendent of the Cabell County schools.

The first set of questions was: Would you support county school districts having more direct leeway – less state-prescribed policy – to address local educational issues that could or might impact the classroom? If the county school district were given this authority, do you think student achievement or student performance would advance?

Teachers generally supported giving districts more leeway, but one expressed concern about maintaining consistency from district to district. According to Parker, that teacher said, “Students are transient, and depending on what the counties chose to change, we could have 55 very different school systems.” Parker added that one middle school teacher wants to have more career-technical education classes for all students.

Lambert said the seven teachers he asked all favored giving districts more leeway, because each county has distinct needs, some of which are the result of geography.

“Many individuals have little knowledge of what it takes to manage a school system. Teachers must be certified and highly qualified for their positions. Maybe the state should look at boards of education.” – Greenbrier County teacher

Campbell said that only three of the six teachers he approached answered the first set of questions. Among those three, two agreed with giving districts more leeway while one disagreed because of misgivings about the qualifications of some county school board members. Campbell said that last teachers said, “Many individuals have little knowledge of what it takes to manage a school system. Teachers must be certified and highly qualified for their positions. Maybe the state should look at boards of education.”

Thomas said the three teachers who responded to him want more flexibility at the local level. One said content standards and objectives should be determined at the state level, but other decisions should be made locally. Combs said she got similar responses with one teacher saying that state policy should be used to keep schools honest.

Smith said teachers in his district said that every school is different, so decisions should be made at the local level.

 

Teachers would favor funding changes.

The second question was: What type of school funding system allows for the most locally designed, successful and innovative system that leads to best performance?

Thomas said a high school teacher responded that funding that is too restrictive in its purposes can lead to duplication and waste. For example, a teacher might end up with funding for two or three different computers but not enough for classroom supplies. Another told Thomas that schools should get more Innovation Zones grants, which would provide them with more flexibility in funding. One teacher from an inner-city elementary school said funding should be based on enrollment and Title I needs. (Title I is the portion of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act that provides financial assistance for educating children from low-income families.)

One of the teachers who responded to Campbell suggested having a funding system that would give local boards more leeway in pupil-teacher ratios in each classroom. Another desired a system that would allow for more pooling of resources. Yet another said funding should be staff-oriented, because decisions are made best at the school level.

Lambert said one teacher suggested that the population and economy of each county should be considered in allocating funding. Likewise, another said funding should focus on each county’s needs, because one-size-fits-all funding doesn’t work.

Parker said teachers expressed interest in balancing per-pupil spending county by county and requiring industries with tax breaks to give back something to the education system. At least one teacher complained to her that teachers must use their personal funds to get some of the things they need for their classrooms. Similarly, Combs said she heard from teachers that they spend their own money not only on classroom supplies but also on field trips, payments for lecturers and equipment. Campbell said he was concerned that West Virginia could lose good teachers because they are getting frustrated with such problems.

Smith said teachers in Cabell County told him they would like to have more school-level control of professional development funding.

 

Teachers value support from both people and technology.

The third set of questions was: What system supports (human and technical) currently enable you to produce optimal student learning? What changes in those support systems are needed?

Parker said Braxton County teachers cited Title I teachers, instructional coaches, SMART Boards, computer labs and mobile labs with laptops. But she said, they also complained about a lack of technical support, the cost of keeping technology operating and a shortage of Title I teachers, nurses and counselors. Campbell said having technology support delivered by Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) seems to be a problem. Harry Shaffer, a commission member and lawyer from Boone County, said the teachers he contacted wanted more time to respond to the questions, but one did complain about being called upon too much by fellow teachers to fix technical problems, because he is more readily available than technical support from the RESA.

Combs said teachers in Berkeley County told her that having iPads and laptops helped them provide optimal learning environments. In Cabell County, teachers told Smith that instructional coaches and technology integration specialists helped them.

In Pendleton County, teachers cited the use of professional learning communities (PLCs) as being helpful, but Lambert said more time for PLCs needs to be built into teachers’ schedules. Campbell said teachers in Greenbrier County also want more time to make decisions. In addition, he said, they complained about too many state-level changes and having too many time-wasters like excessive paperwork, as well as classes that are too large. Campbell noted that class size seemed to be a common theme among teachers. “I think we’re onto something,” he said.

Thomas said two teachers told him technology support helped them but a third said human support was more important. That last teacher said community involvement in the learning process is necessary. Thomas explained that the teacher works on Charleston’s West Side, where there is an effort to increase community involvement in the schools.

 

Teachers face a variety of barriers.

The fourth set of questions was: What do you see as the three greatest barriers, which the schools can control, impinging on student performance gains? Describe how you might reduce or eliminate each barrier.

Thomas said teachers cited problems with attendance enforcement, class size, not having enough resources for special needs children, classroom management, lack of collaboration time, too much state and federal control and too much change in programs.

Teachers who responded to Campbell cited problems with class sizes being too big, lack of technology teachers, lack of consistency in discipline and safety measures (at a large high school), lack of funding for in-school suspension directors, and not enough commitment from certain teachers (adding that they need to take more pride in their communities and profession).

Shaffer added that the home lives of some children are problems, because their parents and other family members don’t value education. Thomas said the Harlem Children’s Zone, a nonprofit program in New York City, offers one model for counteracting such problems.

Lambert said teachers told him they would like to see more spiraling – building on instruction from one grade level to the next – and more emphasis on education in kindergarten through second grade. A retired teacher told him that teachers are overwhelmed by everything but instruction. Campbell said the commission must address that problem.

Smith said teachers told him it’s important to have teacher-led teams. They also said frequent changes in the state school board’s Policy 2510, which is meant to assure the quality of education, are not helpful.

Parker said teachers gave her comments similar to those of the others, but they also cited the need for an alternative school, lack of preparation time and not being able to use substitutes for bus duty. She said they also want teacher committees to be involved in all curriculum discussions.

Combs said teachers told her that some students’ lack of access to technology and material outside of school is a problem. They also complained that too much instructional time is lost to testing. Campbell said the amount of time devoted to testing is a major national issue.

Thomas Alsbury, a professor of educational administration and supervision at Seattle Pacific University, monitored the discussion through a video connection as part of his role in advising the commission. He said some countries with successful education models limit the amount of testing by testing just small, random groups of students once every few years.

“It’s very clear that they’re not testing in order to compare teacher to teacher or classroom to classroom or even school to school. They believe that’s also counterproductive. They’re really trying to get at whether the students are learning or not.” – Thomas Alsbury

“It’s very clear that they’re not testing in order to compare teacher to teacher or classroom to classroom or even school to school,” Alsbury said. “They believe that’s also counterproductive. They’re really trying to get at whether the students are learning or not.”

 

Teachers indicate caution about consolidation of services.

The fifth question was: Consolidating some educational services (e.g., purchasing, facilities and transportation) at the regional level or state level might negate duplication and stabilize fiscal support to local county districts. What are your initial thoughts about this idea, especially the impact on your ability to produce optimal student learning?

Parker said teachers told her such consolidation could be good if it would allow for more teachers and equipment. They also said having RESAs handle bulk orders is good, and more school consolidation should be done across county lines (such as the new elementary school being built for Lewis and Gilmer counties).

Teachers told Lambert they would support consolidation of services if it would direct more money to the county level, but they expressed fears that instead of making funding more flexible, it could lead to a loss of funding. They also said consolidation of services is not as effective in districts with large distances to cover.

Campbell said teachers told him they oppose consolidation of schools, because bigger is not necessarily better, they don’t like a “cookie-cutter” approach, and consolidation of services usually creates more problems than it solves. However, one said that consolidation of services could be good if districts would not lose overall funding.

Thomas said he heard from teachers that they thought consolidation could be good if any money saved would be put into classrooms.

Combs said teachers told her that people are never happy when things are taken away from them, which can happen with consolidation. However, she also was told that good teachers can handle such situations better than bad teachers.

Lambert said teachers told him that the operational costs of the system must be understood when consolidation of services are considered. They also suggested that parameters are needed for funding requests.

 

Some teachers have more leeway in classrooms than others.

The sixth question was: Is there enough leeway or discretion given to classroom educators to attain prescribed student achievement goals? Please explain your response.

Parker said one teacher appreciates having many options for achieving goals, but two others said they were told what to teach and how to teach it.

Lambert said most of the teachers he contacted said they do have enough leeway, but they want the education system to be cautious about adding programs. One said that great teachers always will find ways to put themselves in successful positions. Another cited a need for more staffing. One other teacher praised the school’s principal for staying out of teachers’ way and not micromanaging.

In Greenbrier County, teachers told Campbell that the curriculum makes it difficult to attain content standards and objectives, there is a lack of support for career-technical education and there is too much testing. One teacher said the district does not support leeway and discretion for teachers but the teacher’s principal does.

Thomas said two teachers told him they do have enough leeway. One of them did not see a lack of teacher discretion as an issue. The other said the adoption of the Common Core content standards and objectives is providing teachers with more leeway although they take time to implement. A third teacher said that teachers don’t have enough leeway and should be involved in every aspect of the education process.

Combs said teachers in Berkeley County told her they have enormous support and freedom.

“I think the process is working.” – Doug Lambert

Campbell said the differences in views on this issue reflect the importance of leadership by principals. He said some teachers think that principals get their jobs for reasons other than their leadership skills.

Lambert said the new role that teachers have in the hiring process as a result of last year’s education reform legislation is improving the way they see how they fit into the system. “I think the process is working,” he said.

The final question was: What current school system innovations (e.g., changes in student contact time, class or school size, and local versus central control of reform) do you believe would most enable a teacher to produce optimal student learning?

Thomas said teachers told him they would like lower student-teacher ratios, more collaboration time and having elementary math taught by math-only teachers.

Teachers told Lambert they want extra funding for interventionists, more resources and assessment in kindergarten through second grade, better use of assessment data to drive instruction and personalized education plans for all students. Parker said teachers expressed the same type of desires to her, as well as wanting more local control.

 

Several themes emerge from teachers’ comments.

Sharon Harsh, director of the Appalachian Regional Comprehensive Center, who monitored the commission’s discussion by phone (while Karen Larry of the center coordinated the discussion on the scene), summarized some of the themes she noted from the presentation of teachers’ comments.

“It’s not sufficient to house expertise at the RESA or district level. It’s important to bring the expertise to the classroom level, such as coaching and up-to-date technology services. The secondary idea is that districts and schools should strive for continuity in implementing curricular and instructional programs and provide support for student learning.” – Sharon Harsh

“It’s not sufficient to house expertise at the RESA or district level,” Harsh said. “It’s important to bring the expertise to the classroom level, such as coaching and up-to-date technology services. The secondary idea is that districts and schools should strive for continuity in implementing curricular and instructional programs and provide support for student learning.”

Another theme she heard was that teachers want fewer restrictions tied to state funding.

On the issue of barriers mentioned in the fourth set of questions, Harsh said, “The overarching idea appears to be that distributive leadership, which is involving teachers in decision-making, will help identify appropriate and effective intervention that will address the critical and core issues facing them.”

Based on the teachers’ responses to the fifth question about the consolidation of services, she said, “Consolidated services will be effective if it results in greater efficiency and the savings realized are directed to where they are needed at the school level.”

Harsh said about the sixth question that “giving teachers leeway to attain goals is important. It should be approached cautiously to ensure optimal instructional processes on the factors that promote student success.”

Finally, her reaction to the responses to the seventh question was that “schools need funding for innovations, resources to implement customized interventions, such as courses that will assist students in math in the core curriculum, and skills in the use of data and ongoing personalization to make instruction relevant for students.”

“In my opinion, that’s the number one theme. Class size is too large, particularly in the lower elementary grades. In a lot of cases, I would say, they end up being double of what the teachers say they should be. I think that’s critical…. We might be better to have larger classes in high school and smaller in K-2.” – Tom Campbell

Campbell noted that the issue of class size seemed to be a recurrent theme in the answers to most of the questions. “In my opinion, that’s the number one theme,” he said. “Class size is too large, particularly in the lower elementary grades. In a lot of cases, I would say, they end up being double of what the teachers say they should be. I think that’s critical…. We might be better to have larger classes in high school and smaller in K-2.”

But the quality of teachers in the classroom must also be considered, Campbell said. For example, he said, a small class with a bad teacher might not do so well, but a good teacher could do well even with a large class.

Harsh said the main terms that kept coming up repeatedly in the teachers’ responses were: consistency, continuity, effective implementation, address local needs, time for professional collaboration and growth, shared decision-making, funding flexibility, expertise, professional resources and support, student success in learning, updated instructional resources and relevant learning experience. Campbell said they also expressed interest in simplifying the system.

Thomas said, “We talked about flexibility more than funding – flexibility in teaching methodology, giving teachers more flexibility to make decisions about the learning process.” Harsh said something else that kept coming up was effective implementation in giving teachers the opportunity to make decisions about their programs.

 

Consultant heard many themes in teachers’ comments.

Alsbury then offered his analysis of the teachers’ comments. First, he said, it was significant that the teachers did not express any antagonism against consolidation of resources, but they were concerned that some resources should be kept localized. In other words, he said, the commission should look not only at moving toward more central control of some services, such as transportation or facilities management, but also at moving some services consolidated at the RESA level back to the local level or from the district level back to the school level. That’s especially so for technology support, he said.

“We need a technology support person at the school, so they can provide just-in-time assistance in this area.” – Thomas Alsbury

“I think we see this nationally that organizations that move to centralizing technology support has resulted in negative responses,” Alsbury said. “We need a technology support person at the school, so they can provide just-in-time assistance in this area.”

Another theme he heard was about maintaining local control of educational processes. “I did not see pushback in terms of centralizing things like setting goals, for example,” Alsbury said. “By the way, this would be very much in keeping with other models that have been highly effective.”

As an example, he said, Finland has a centralized curriculum as well as centralized target goals. “But the difference is that that is provided as a guideline to the local school district, which then has the option of utilizing that but of also modifying it,” Alsbury said. “So in other words, it’s not ever mandated from the centralized level. It’s simply provided as a resource.”

The subtle but important difference in that is that it “maintains local control of the processes but does provide resources at the centralized level,” he said.

What Alsbury concluded from teachers’ comments on the issue of testing is that it should be targeted at formative assessment. “We know that actually research supports the fidelity of teacher-designed tests,” he said. “I know that’s not a popular thing to say. We’re all talking about a national- or state-level assessment, because then everybody is testing for the same thing. But we know that, in terms of student improvement, it’s actually teacher-designed tests or formative criterion-based tests that are the most effective in providing immediate feedback to the teacher for re-teaching and changing how teaching is done for students that maybe didn’t get it the first time. So the focus here is on testing that is focused and designed on improvement of student learning rather than focused on accountability.”

Other countries with highly successful education systems tend to use that model in which the main purpose of testing is to help teachers adjust what they teach, Alsbury said. “They do not mandate tests, and they do not use tests to pay for performance for teachers,” he said. “They do not use tests to compare schools against each other, et cetera. They think that is counterproductive. For those that say, ‘Wait a minute. We need to have accountability,” absolutely we do. But they manage that by centrally setting goals and expecting schools and districts to meet those goals. They don’t go into mandating to those schools and districts as to how they’re going to get to those goals or how many tests they need to give, et cetera. They let that be a local decision, and they feel that that’s adequate.”

Alsbury again emphasized that certain services, such as technology support for which just-in-time, quick responses are needed, should be maintained at the local level while others should be consolidated at the regional level or state level. That is consistent with successful education systems in other countries, he said.

“We need locally based, quick data from formative assessments to inform our teaching, and instead it seems like we’ve moved the other way where we’re focused on a state-level and, now with Smarter Balanced, a national level assessment, which is actually centralizing assessment rather than localizing assessment, just the opposite from what we know is effective to improve student performance,” Alsbury said. (The Smarter Balanced Assessment has been developed by a multi-state consortium, which includes West Virginia, to correspond to the new Common Core content standards and objectives.)

Collaborative decision-making, such as in professional learning communities, was another theme that stood out for Alsbury from the teachers’ comments. “I think that is critically important,” he said. “When you look at schools that are highly effective, this is a process that they use. They use collaborative decision-making.”

However, Alsbury said, just mandating use of professional learning communities does not necessarily result in collaborative decision-making. Some teachers believe that they are asked to go through the motions, but their ideas are not truly considered, he said.

“It’s more important to help people understand – that is teachers and administrators – on how to use the collaborative model rather than to sell and mandate to them a specific model that they should be using that then hamstrings them when they really need to address contextual issues.” – Thomas Alsbury

“It’s more important to help people understand – that is teachers and administrators – on how to use the collaborative model rather than to sell and mandate to them a specific model that they should be using that then hamstrings them when they really need to address contextual issues,” Alsbury said.

The teachers’ comments also indicated to Alsbury that they need more training in classroom management and technology. That reflects on not only the college training teachers receive, he said, but also on the teacher evaluation system. If classroom management and technology skills are not included in teachers’ evaluations, they won’t be considered as important for teachers to have, he said. The focus on improvement of students’ test scores has led to abandoning the evaluation of teachers for such skills as classroom management, he said.

Another quality Alsbury would have teachers be evaluated on is empathy. He said trying to get teachers to use certain methodologies perfectly has not reaped the gains people had hoped it would. But if students believe that their teacher cares about them and thinks they can achieve, that is more powerful than having teachers use the right methodology with fidelity, he said. Thus, he believes that empathy should be considered in training teachers and hiring them.

Along with that, Alsbury suggested, West Virginia should consider the preparation for principals. “One of the themes was an inconsistency,” he said. “We had some teachers saying, ‘It’s working great in my school. My principal is doing a good job having a collaborative decision-making process.’ And then in others, not so much.”

Therefore, Alsbury said, West Virginia should make sure future principals are taught on how to appropriately use the collaborative decision-making process. They also need to be evaluated on their use of such a process, he said.

Those are all structural system issues, Alsbury said. They don’t directly address governance, but they are pieces that need to go into place structurally for changes in governance to be realized, he said, because all of the system’s parts must work together.

On the issue of class size, Alsbury urged caution about mandating changes at the state level. “We’ve seen that tried in California, where class size was reduced with no effect,” he said. There are not many validated studies on class size, he said, but the few good ones make it clear that class size must be accompanied by change in instruction.

“You need to instruct in an individual way rather than a group way to really reap the benefits of lowering class size. so state solutions don’t always work.” – Thomas Alsbury

“You need to instruct in an individual way rather than a group way to really reap the benefits of lowering class size, so state solutions don’t always work,” Alsbury said. Flexibility with class size is needed, he said, and it should be smaller in kindergarten through second grade.

“In highly effective schools, we see that even within schools, depending on that local need, sometimes class sizes need to be changed,” Alsbury said. “So in other words, if we have a particular kind of class where we need intervention, we may need to make that class size smaller, say within a high school or a middle school, where other class sizes can be large.”

Addressing the class size issue can be a challenge, he said, because teachers’ associations want to protect their members and not allow for big variations in class size. “The idea of local flexibility might be a way to get to that,” Alsbury suggested.

Campbell said that could be at the heart at what the commission is trying to do. A mandate that class sizes should be reduced is still a mandate, he said. “I know teachers have told me if they have 20 kids and no special needs, they can handle it,” he said. “If they have five special needs [students] out of 20, they can’t handle 20.” Thus, he said, the solution seems to be not to go from one mandate to another but instead to keep the system simple and practical.

Harsh said teachers want consistency in program implementation.

“Reforms, for the most part, need to be driven by local needs.” – Thomas Alsbury

Alsbury said that, when reforms are made, they should be given time to work and receive appropriate analysis. “Reforms, for the most part, need to be driven by local needs,” he said. Also, he said, if programs change too frequently – known as “program churn” – some teachers move into a protectionist mode.

“They know that this new program is not going to be around in another two or three years,” Alsbury said. “They say that they think that it’s just a way for their administrator, their central office or the state to stick a flag in the ground and say, ‘See, we’re doing something innovative just like the district next door or the state next door.’”

Those teachers then just ride out the new program, which is counter-productive, he said. And that, he said, is another reason to drive program selection by need.

“In other words, the program should be the last thing that you do, not the first thing that you do,” Alsbury said. “You should then make sure that you clearly identify local needs and that you then link whatever program that you do purchase to that specific need. It doesn’t mean that you can’t get a national program or a best practice program, but at the very least, you’re going to have to modify it to fit your district.”

In his work studying academic administration, he said, he observed school board meetings in one large district for one year. Alsbury said he saw the staff try to drive reform rather than basing reforms and programs on the district’s needs. One program the staff promoted was Singapore Math, he said, but the research supporting it was actually very meager and half of the studies found that Singapore Math had little effect on student achievement.

Getting back to the comments from West Virginia teachers, Alsbury said, “I think we heard the teachers saying, ‘We know what the kids need. We know what our local district needs are. Let us use that to create or drive reform efforts at the local level so we can help kids.’ Hold them accountable to goals. That’s fine.”

“If you mandate the methods, which is basically what we do now, then you see lower results, because mandating methods is one size fits all.” – Tom Campbell

Campbell said it would make sense to set goals for teachers but not also mandate the methods, because that’s counterproductive. “If you mandate the methods, which is basically what we do now, then you see lower results, because mandating methods is one size fits all,” he said.

Alsbury said there has been some talk about running schools like businesses. That’s OK if you realize that some of the most successful businesses do not dictate process, he said. One of the principles of manufacturing quality consultant Edwards Deming was that you shouldn’t evaluate people with high-stakes assessments, Alsbury said, and another is not to dictate high-stakes methods. It just brings fear into an organization and hasn’t been shown to be effective, he said.

 

School board members’ qualifications can have unexpected results.

“Boards that had more educators on them and boards that had more business folks on them actually had lower achievement results than boards that had more blue-collar workers on them.” – Thomas Alsbury

On the comment from one teacher about making sure that school board members are more qualified, Alsbury advised caution. He cited a newly released study based upon a national survey that determined the occupations and educational levels of school board members across the country and compared them to each school district’s educational improvement over several years. “Boards that had more educators on them and boards that had more business folks on them actually had lower achievement results than boards that had more blue-collar workers on them,” he said.

Campbell suggested this explanation for that: “The blue-collar folks are more engaged in seeing that their children do better than they are.”

Alsbury said that might be true. He said the study indicated that educators tend to come to school boards with agendas to protect teachers at all costs, even if it’s harmful to kids. So they are constantly in a protectionist mode for teachers’ salaries and time rather than being focused on kids, he said. Sometimes business leaders had similar tendencies, such as preferring high-stakes accountability tests and making sure teachers were not slacking off on their job responsibilities, he said. “Because they come with agendas and often from constituency associations that drive those agendas and probably got them elected, they sometimes tend to be actually less effective than folks who on the surface appear to be unqualified to serve on a school board,” Alsbury said.

That doesn’t mean that membership on school boards should be restricted to people with blue-collar backgrounds, he said, but he agreed with Campbell that the commission should avoid getting hung up on the issue of qualifications for school board members. Shaffer said he thought that the qualifications of board members are important, but that’s not necessarily so for their education. Training people after they are on school boards is more important, he said.

One method for school governance that Alsbury advocated would have regional boards handle business management issues, which would allow local school boards to focus on educational issues. “So you don’t have to be an expert in transportation or a contractor or so forth to be able to discuss what’s best for kids in schools at the local board level,” he said.

On the subject of funding, Alsbury suggested moving away from categorical state funding and giving school-level teams some say in funding allocations. Such a system could be effective, but it would require training, he said. He gave an example from one school where he was an administrator. The team decided to get one good copier instead of having three copiers and to conserve the use of paper voluntarily. The leftover funds were used on students. Alsbury said that allowing flexibility while requiring accountability lets teachers be creative and feel as though they have more buy-in to the process.

 

Commission will get look at suggested education model in June.

In preparation for the commission’s next meeting, Harsh, Larry and Alsbury are expected to put together a proposed education system model for members to consider. Thomas said he expects it to take a holistic approach. Shaffer agreed and said the state’s current education system is a result of piecemeal changes.

When Thomas asked if any state already has an ideal system, Alsbury responded that Hawaii is the only one that comes close, but even it doesn’t go far enough. He said better models are found in the Netherlands and the Nordic countries.

“So we’re really plowing a little bit of new ground here, which is actually very exciting,” Alsbury said. “In the United States, unfortunately, it seems to be an all-or-nothing prospect.”

In other words, he said, Americans tend either to want elected school boards to be left alone completely or to have them eliminated completely and then instead let a mayor or governor make all decisions for school systems, but no one seems to want to try anything in the middle. However, he said, the latter system has not worked well, and the number of systems controlled by mayors or governors has declined from about 40 to 14 in the last 10 years.

The reforms the commission is considering would establish different roles for the state board, regional boards and local boards, he said.

“If West Virginia were actually able to pilot something like this, it would truly be the first time that anything like it has been attempted in the United States. And if there’s some success to it, I predict that it’s going to have a big splash.” – Thomas Alsbury

“If West Virginia were actually able to pilot something like this, it would truly be the first time that anything like it has been attempted in the United States,” Alsbury said. “And if there’s some success to it, I predict that it’s going to have a big splash.”

 Isolated districts and schools that have been successful have used all kinds of programs and systems, he said. What they have in common is using collaborative processes to identify local needs and then creating reforms designed to address those needs, he said.

“They tend to sustain that change over time, and that has resulted in the achievement gains,” Alsbury said. The idea is to have local control with high standards, he said.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

West Virginia has shown small gains in math scores for high school seniors, but otherwise the state lags behind others states in both math and reading in the latest report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). To say that West Virginia ranks last among the states is not correct, however, because it was one of only 13 states that participated in the study.

Nevertheless, NAEP’s 2013 State Snapshot Report shows that West Virginia has plenty of room for improvement. The brightest part of the report was that the West Virginia seniors’ average score in mathematics was 145 in 2013, which was four points higher than the average score in 2009. But it was lower than the average score of 152 for seniors in public schools across the nation.

In reading, West Virginia seniors had an average score of 280 in 2013, which was one point better than in 2009, but that was not deemed to be statistically different. Also, West Virginia’s reading score was below the national average of 287.

Among the other states included in the report, West Virginia was about even with Tennessee in both math and reading, while the other 11 states performed better. Those other states include: Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey and South Dakota.

Other West Virginia results based on math scores:

  • The score gap between higher-performing students (those at or above the 75th percentile) and lower-performing students (those at or below the 25th percentile) was 38 points in 2013. The gap was 41 points in 2009. The difference from 2009 to 2013 was not statistically significant.
     
  • The percentage of students at or above the level deemed proficient by NAEP was 14 percent, which was not significantly different than the 13 percent in 2009.
     
  • The percentage of students at or above what NAEP called the basic level was 55 percent in 2013, which was not significantly better than the 52 percent in 2009.
     
  • Black students had an average score in 2013 that was 12 points lower than white students. In 2009, the gap was 21 points.
     
  • The average score for males was not significantly different than that for females in 2013.

Other West Virginia results based on reading scores:

  • The score gap between higher-performing students and lower-performing students was 46 points in 2013, which was not significantly different than the 50 points in 2009.
     
  • The percentage of students who performed at or above the proficient level was 28 percent in 2013, which was not significantly different than the 29 points in 2009.
     
  • The percentage of students who performed at or above the basic level was 70 percent in 2013, which was not significantly different than the 68 percent in 2009.
     
  • The average score for black students was 11 points lower than that for white students in 2013, which was not significantly different than the 5 points in 2009.
     
  • Female students had an average score in 2013 that was higher than male students by 11 points, which was narrower than the 17-point difference in 2009.

For more information about the NAEP results, go to: http://nationsreportcard.gov/reading_math_g12_2013/#/.

 

 

By Howard M. O’Cull, Ed.D.

In what is a very widely-discussed – if not open rumor – the state Board of Education is expected to take strong actions against the Logan County Board of Education at the Board’s May 14, 2014, meeting in Charleston.

The state Board of Education agenda item reads,

“An Education Performance Audit of the Logan County School District was conducted at the specific direction of the WVBE.  This report describes the Education Performance Audit Team’s assessment of the Logan County School District.”

The particular WVBE attachment, however, is not included with online meeting materials. Rather, a written statement is included, “Education Performance Audit Report for Logan County - (Action).  Attachment will be distributed/available at the meeting.”

 

Flurry of OEPA activity.

In recent months, there have been a flurry of reports the state Office of Education Performance Audits may recommend partial or complete state Board of Education intervention in the county.

The possible intervention buzz is attributed to concerns over various aspects of the school district's operations which, of course, the OEPA report will itemize to the state Board tomorrow.

 

Logan County first intervention county board.

The Logan County Board of Education was the first county board to face state Board intervention under provisions of legislation included in a 1988 school reform bill, Senate Bill 14, which was touted by then Governor Arch A. Moore Jr. (That same legislation also created the state School Building Authority and the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability or LOCEA).

In an August 6, 1992, news article, then Charleston Gazette reporter Chris Miller wrote,

“For the first time ever, the state Board of Education on Wednesday took control of a local school system - limiting the authority of the Logan County school board and appointing a new superintendent.

By unanimous vote, the board ordered Cosma Crites, Logan's superintendent of 13 months, out of the job. Her replacement, Marion County superintendent John D. Myers, begins his four-year term Aug. 17.

State school Superintendent Hank Marockie said Crites could retain a job within the system, but that she has made no decision. Staffing changes will be made in Logan's central office, he said.

Crites, who would not talk with reporters after the board's one-hour meeting, got her job over two candidates with doctorates and experience as superintendents. She has served as the system's personnel director before that. She is the sister-in-law of Bill Abraham, a political power in Logan County.

Logan County's 32 schools and central office have been the focus of a state Department of Education investigation since October, when an accreditation team uncovered dozens of problems, including more than 100 uncertified teachers and dozens more teaching courses for which they weren't qualified.”

“’This board is not anxious to take this action at all," state board member Virgil Cook said after the votes. "We're doing this because we feel we have to...”

The Logan intervention ended in the fall 1996.

 

Logan intervention deemed largely successful.

In September 1996 Education Week reported,

“West Virginia has relinquished the reins of a struggling school system, leaving behind a rare state-takeover success story: a state-hired superintendent in charge of a system with higher test scores and better management and buoyed by local acceptance.

The state school board last month ended its oversight of the Logan County district, granting the local school board power to direct curriculum and personnel for the first time since 1992. Last year, the state board returned control over budget and the school calendar to the local board.

Student test scores rose dramatically and the dropout rates fell in the county's three high schools under the state's supervision. In addition, the 7,100-student district cleaned up an administrative mess that had left almost a third of its teachers uncertified.

“It's a great success story,’" said Henry Marockie, the state's superintendent of schools. ‘It shows how a takeover can be very successful and doesn't have to become embroiled in court proceedings…

West Virginia succeeded in Logan County because the state board kept the local board in place, albeit with reduced powers, Mr. Marockie said. The state board oversaw Logan County's personnel, curriculum, budget, and school calendar, leaving the locally elected officials with lesser tasks such as transportation and maintenance.

Looking back, Mr. Marockie said last week that any attempt to strip the local board members of their offices would have detoured the process. “That's five years of legal cases,’ he said.

Goodwill between the state and local officials is an important lesson from Logan County, one school-policy analyst said. ‘It depends on how the state approaches it with the district,’ said Kathy Christie of the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.

‘”There are a lot of people who wanted to make this thing a success,’ said John Myers, the Logan County superintendent the state hired to manage the system…

Besides the ECS analysis, the Logan County intervention was deemed successful, based on several reports, including a dissertation published by then Grant County Schools Superintendent Marsha Carr-Lambert for a doctorate she received in management and leadership.

County board “leadership,” as strictly defined and construed by OEPA, is often cited as a condition warranting state Board intervention.

Other factors often cited in West Virginia Board of Education interventions include fiscal concerns, primarily county board deficits that exceed or will exceed a casual deficit, personnel practices, including certification, school facilities issues, student achievement, curricular matters and county board dysfunction.

The Fayette, Gilmer, Grant, Mingo and Preston County Boards of Education are operating under state Board of Education intervention.

Mingo County has faced two interventions.

It appears the Gilmer County Board of Education will regain local autonomy prior to July 1.

 

Indiana University School of Law study.

According to an Indiana University School of Law (Indianapolis), study,

“In 1989, New Jersey became the first state in the country to take over a district.1 Kentucky followed the same year.  By 1989, six states had enacted State takeover laws. By 2004, the number increased to twenty-nine states.  Most takeovers occurred between 1995 and 1997.  Before this peak, it is estimated that “60[%] of the takeovers were for purely financial and/or management reasons, while only27 [%] were comprehensive takeovers that included academic goals. In the three years after 1997, however, the percentage of comprehensive takeovers ha[d] risen to 67%.

“State statutes and administrative codes often set forth grounds for State takeovers of districts. Forms of takeovers include: gubernatorial appointment of an executive official or board to manage the district; state board of education takeover; and mayoral appointment of an official and/or board to manage the district. In some takeovers, the elected board is maintained as an advisory board. According to policy analyst Todd Ziebarth, “[S]tate takeovers, for the most part, have yet to produce dramatic and consistent increases in student
performance, as is necessary in many of the school districts that are taken over.”

 A key complaint about State takeovers arises when an elected school board is partially or completely replaced with appointees. Critics contend such takeovers disenfranchise voters, particularly in districts where minorities constitute the majority of the electorate.11 In 2004, over 50% of students in 74%of the districts taken over were minorities.1 Additionally, 63% of the schools taken over as of 2004 were “in central cities (large and midsize) or in the urban fringe of a large city. All but three of these districts had high minority populations, ranging from 51% to 96%.”13 Moreover, according to Katrina Kelly, the director of urban school district advocacy at the National School Boards Association, “‘Black and Hispanic school board members feel they are being targeted.’”

This ostensibly racially disproportionate takeover of minority school districts prompts the Indiana Law Review article, the first part of which reviews the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) provision for State takeovers of school districts and State takeover laws. The second Part examines the racial physiognomy of various State takeovers around the nation. The final Part explores state takeovers of minority school districts under the Equal Protection Clause. The conclusion focuses on the various implications of State takeovers…”

The link to the article is https://mckinneylaw.iu.edu/ilr/pdf/vol42p343.pdf

 

House of Delegates bill would have limited duration of interventions.

The West Virginia House of Delegates adopted legislation this year, House Bill 4336, which essentially would have limited state Board of Education interventions to five years. (The reference is here) (Some West Virginia Board of Education interventions have lasted more than a decade.)

The legislation, which was rejected by the state Senate and as part of a compromise education reform bill adopted by the Senate, Senate Bill 409, also would have provided greater directed involvement of the county board in working with state officials to cure intervention issues.

 

WVSBA sees “necessity of takeovers” but feels intervention boards’ leadership should be bolstered.

The West Virginia School Board Association, which has convened various meetings of takeover boards during the past few years, readily acknowledges the “necessity” of the state Board of Education having the capability to initiate takeovers while positing that the association and other entities should work to bolster the leadership capability of the local board, especially to assume leadership once the intervention is concluded.

The Association was largely successful, working with the state Board of Education, in developing a framework or exit strategies for intervention county boards.  

  • O’Cull is West Virginia School Board Association Executive Director.

 

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.