News

Overview

The Thrasher Group

September 30, 2011 - Volume 31 Issue 22

 

 

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

By Jim Wallace

Participants at the first meeting of the new Committee for Developing High-Functioning County Boards raised many questions but also set a framework for further work. In the end, the full committee tentatively agreed to meet again early in December, and a subcommittee will attempt to meet in the meantime to come up with specific standards for further consideration.

A presentation by Barbara Parsons, president of the Monongalia County school board, set the groundwork for the discussion`. Although school board members often believe that state laws and policies leave them little flexibility for making changes, she said they really can do a lot to influence change or lack of change.

“You have a lot of things in your power to help the children of West Virginia,” Parsons said.

After a brief history of school boards in America, she said several different models of school governance have been tried, but the most common model is still one of boards with lay citizens, either appointed or elected, who focus on policy and oversight – and sometimes meddling in operations.

“If you’re going to be a good board member, you can’t be meddling, and meddling is so much fun.” – Barbara Parsons

“If you’re going to be a good board member, you can’t be meddling, and meddling is so much fun,” Parsons said, but it’s a good way for board members to get into trouble.

After the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite in 1957, Americans became afraid their education system was falling behind, especially in science and math, she said, so the federal and state governments began to get more involved in education. The result has been that the duties of local school boards have become more prescribed by the higher levels of government. But Parsons said local boards still can prioritize measure, provide resources and reflect community standards.

During her presentation, she cited several published sources of information about school board effectiveness. One of those was a 2002 research report, “Local School Boards under Review, Their Roles and Effectiveness in Relation to Students’ Academic Achievements,” by Deborah Land of Johns Hopkins University. Land made this statement:

“The challenge for school boards and those proposing school board and educational governance reforms is to figure out which forms of governance and management, operational procedures, and priorities best match local characteristics and translate into improved educational outcomes, particularly greater academic achievement.”


Boards need to spend more time on strategy.

Parsons pointed out that, although school boards are expected to set direction for their systems, much of what they are asked to do is operational, such as determining where a bus stop should be. The amount of time boards spend discussing strategy rather than operations averages only about 3 percent, she said. (WVSBA Executive Director Howard O’Cull later said a more recent study found that the proportion of time school boards spend on strategy had increased to 6 percent.)

“How much movement are you getting with just 3 percent of your time thinking about it?” Parsons asked and suggested that boards need to find a better balance if they want to move forward.

No perfect governance structure has been found for getting boards to achieve the most effective outcomes, she said, but she shared findings from several articles with descriptive information obtained from research on what the characteristics of effective boards are. One was “Practices of High Performing Boards” from BoardSource (www.boardsource.org), which is a nonprofit board development company. That article from 2010 found that exceptional boards focus on four fundamental concepts or practices:

  1. Strategy that includes being mission-driven, using strategic thinking and sustaining resources.
  2. Accountability, which includes having compliance with integrity, being results-oriented and promoting an ethos of transparency.
  3. Relationship building that includes developing a constructive partnership between the chief executive and the board, ensuring revitalization, and implementing intentional board practices such as thinking about meeting operations and structure.
  4. Dynamics, which include a culture of inquiry to ensure all voices are heard, practicing independent-mindedness when making decisions, and demonstrating continuous learning through orientation, education beyond the boardroom and self-assessment of the board as a whole and of individual members.

Parsons said BoardSource also put out a 2005 book called The Source: Twelve Principles of Governance That Power Exceptional Boards. Those principles include:

  1. Constructive Partnership
  2. Mission Driven
  3. Strategic Thinking
  4. Culture of Inquiry
  5. Independent Mindedness
  6. Ethos of Transparency
  7. Compliance with Integrity
  8. Sustaining Resources
  9. Results-Oriented
  10. Intentional Board Practices
  11. Continuous Learning
  12. Revitalization

“How many of you are able to have disagreements in the board room without hating each other?” Parsons asked in discussing the Culture of Inquiry principle. “If all you have is an opinion, you’re not informed. You’re ignorant.”

On the principle of Compliance with Integrity, she said, “Integrity has become a real challenge for boards.” Parsons added that boards need to respect whistleblowers.

In regard to Revitalization, she said that, although board members cannot determine whom citizens will elect to a board, they can influence that process by soliciting good people to run for the board.

The next source Parsons cited was eduTopia, which is an online resource for education matters (www.edutopia.org). From it, she presented a list of “Five Characteristics of an Effective School Board: A Multifaceted Role, Defined.” That list includes:

  1. Effective boards focus on student achievement through high standards, a rigorous curriculum and high-quality teachers.
  2. Effective boards allocate resources to needs through the annual budget, which is viewed as a tool to reach student-learning priorities.
  3. Effective boards watch the return on investment by asking the question: “What services are we providing to which students at what cost and resulting in what benefits?”
  4. Effective boards use data to stay informed of progress toward goals. Communities expect measurable results, through data, from their tax dollars.
  5. Effective boards engage the communities they serve through policy-making input, setting the vision, reflecting the values of the community and identifying short- and long-term priorities.

“If you don’t measure, you won’t manage,” Parsons said about the fifth point on the list.

Her next list, “Eight Characteristics of Effective School Boards,” came from the Center for Public Education (www.centerforpubliceduction.org), which examined school boards in high-achieving districts. The list, which was posted in January 2011, includes the following characteristics:

  1. Commit to a vision of high expectations for student achievement and quality instruction and define clear goals toward that vision.
  2. Have strong shared beliefs and values about what is possible for students and their ability to learn and of the system and its ability to teach all children at high levels.
  3. Are accountability driven, spending less time on operational issues and more time focused on policies to improve student achievement.
  4. Have a collaborative relationship with staff and the community and establish a strong communications structure to inform and engage both internal and external stakeholders in setting and achieving district goals.
  5. Are data savvy; they embrace and monitor data, even when the information is negative, and use it to drive continuous improvement.
  6. Align and sustain resources, such as professional development, to meet district goals.
  7. Lead as a united team with the superintendent, each from their respective roles, with strong collaboration and mutual trust.
  8. Take part in team development and training, sometimes with their superintendents, to build shared knowledge, values and commitments for their improvement efforts.

Parsons further said that boards should be driven by data, adding that anything can be measured. She presented this list for data-driven boards:

  1. Mission
  2. Vision
  3. Goals and objectives
  4. Measures of performance, including time/dates
  5. Reporting and tracking
  6. Dashboard
  7. Trends = three months of data
  8. Interventions to correct
  9. Monitor and evaluate

Dashboards contain: key indicators of status, such as student enrollment by classification – regular, special gifted; percentages by subgroup; budget versus year-to-date expenditures; free and reduced-cost meals; per pupil expenditure; test score trends over time; student retention, faculty and staff turnover, attendance, overtime; premium pay/overtime; extra-duty runs; vacancies; time taken to fill vacancies; job postings; certifications; attendance; substitute days/costs/hours; etc.

Parsons said a dashboard contains the key issues everyone wants to see. She said that, when trends go in the wrong direction, boards must intervene and perhaps retrain the people involved. Paying attention to data can help a board avoid getting to the point of having to provide “critical care,” she said. Stay focused on direction rather than operations, Parsons advised, and boards must determine what criteria are effective and which ones aren’t.

As she concluded her formal presentation, Parsons left participants with a few basic pieces of advice to keep in mind:

  • Education of students is a school board’s number one responsibility.
  • Always ask if a decision supports the board’s mission, goals and objectives.
  • Coming up with standards improves effectiveness.

 

Getting beyond operational issues isn’t easy.

In the discussion that followed Parsons’s presentation, Bob Brown, executive director of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, went back to her comment that boards tend to spend too little time dealing with strategy because they spend so much time on operational issues. He said most of the issues for which he goes to board meetings are operational, so he wondered whether operational issues are mandated. Brown noted that the Fayette County school board often has dwelled on consolidation issues, and some boards get deeply entrenched in personnel issues. He asked if boards have the time and opportunity to implement high standards.

Parsons responded that, when boards make excuses for not implementing high standards, they are essentially begging for someone to intervene to stop them from going awry. As an example, she said, Congress approved the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002 to impose new standards on public company boards in reaction to a series of scandals involving large firms. She suggested that the state school board and county boards should work together to determine if the boards should be dealing with all of the issues coming before them.

Howard Seufer, WVSBA’s legal counsel from Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love, said state law requires boards to get involved in some things, while it gives them the opportunity to get involved in other things.

“We all gravitate to things we know about.” – Barbara Parsons

Parsons said, “We all gravitate to things we know about.”

Jim Piccirillo, president of the Brooke County school board, referred to one board member who is frustrated at all the obstacles that prevent the school board from getting to strategy discussions. Parsons agreed that serving on a public board can be frustrating, especially for anyone with experience on private boards, which tend to spend much of their time on strategy. Piccirillo said there is no time in school board meetings to address strategy. Seufer said he didn’t know how to solve that problem.

Sis Murray, WVSBA’s president and a member of the Marion County school board, said her board schedules a retreat each year to discuss strategy. She said representatives of the news media attend, but they lose interest after a while, so the board saves more controversial items for later discussion. Sometimes on contentious issues, she said, board members simply must agree to disagree.

Piccirillo said his board tried holding retreats but was criticized by the press for doing so.

Howard O’Cull, executive director of WVSBA, encouraged boards to use annual calendars. By doing so, he said, a board could set aside time at future meetings to address specific topics.

Suzanne Oxley, president of the Cabell County school board, suggested that training for board members might be needed to change their overall mindset. Parsons said training can have interesting results at times. She cited the example of one board member who went to training for board members and then failed to show up at board meetings after that, because she found out that she couldn’t use her position to give her husband a truck.

Although the discussion up to that point had been on how to develop standards to lead to desired outcomes, Oxley suggested it might be better to determine how the outcomes will be used and then work backward to come up with the standards.

Priscilla Haden, a member of the state school board, said she wants the state and county boards to work together. Although there is no real structure set up to do that, she said, she wants to work toward mutual cooperation. Oxley said many resources must be channeled for everyone to benefit.

 

Questions arise over how standards might be used.

When Parsons asked what the participants want from standards, Murray responded that board members want to measure the direction they’re going and to use the standards to recruit potential candidates for board positions. But Piccirillo said he didn’t want to establish standards that teachers could use to complain to the state board about county board members. He said he could see the value of having standards but wasn’t sure how to use them. Oxley suggested labeling the standards as guidelines, so they wouldn’t be legally binding on school board members.

Parsons asked about using standards for boards in counties in which control of the school systems have been taken over by the state board. Haden said that is already in policy. But Parsons suggested that common standards could be used to help those county boards get out from under state control.

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, expressed concern about Piccirillo’s statement that he wouldn’t want standards that teachers could use against board members. Piccirillo explained that he didn’t want another level of bureaucracy. But Lee responded that everyone should be held as accountable as teachers and service personnel. To that, Jimmy Wyatt, president-elect of the WVSBA and a member of the Tyler County school board, said, “We’re held accountable every four years.” Oxley added that there already is a process in state code for removing board members who misbehave in office. Piccirillo said he just doesn’t want to create a mechanism for complaints.

Parsons then said that the committee members had not yet had training in writing standards, and without that, they were merely shooting in the dark. “We all have our role to play in this,” she said, but she warned her colleagues not to just think about worst-case scenarios.

 

Department official provides advice on developing standards.

Michele Blatt, executive director of the Office of School Improvement, then took over leading the discussion, because she had been involved in developing standards for teachers, principals, superintendents and others. She said a standard is “a level of quality or excellence accepted as a norm.” Another definition is “a rule or principal that is used as a basis for judgment,” she said.

The purpose of standards, Blatt said, is to provide a framework for expectations, professional development, accountability and continuous improvement. Oxley said board members bring diverse perspectives to their positions, which might be a source of some problems, but that’s also a good thing. Robin Rector, a Kanawha County school board member, said the problem is with the acceptance of standards. Blatt said members always must keep in mind what standards are for.

As an example of standards, Blatt mentioned a couple of professional teaching standards that are in state policy, such as one dealing with classroom climate, which requires a teacher to provide an atmosphere conducive to learning that is consistent with the mission of the school or the county system. She said standards also have been developed for principals, teacher leaders, superintendents and counselors.

“It’s not an easy task to accomplish,” Blatt said, because consensus must be developed before standards can be adopted.

Piccirillo asked whether the committee is to develop standards for individual board members or for a school board as a whole. Blatt said the standards should be for the board as a whole. Parsons said standards could be developed for individual members. No matter what standards the committee develops, she said, members don’t have to start from scratch, because other states – including Iowa, Pennsylvania and South Carolina – have standards to use as examples.

Blatt said West Virginia already has developed standards for high-quality schools, which were adopted this year. For example, the standard for positive climate and cohesive culture states: “In high quality schools, the staff shares sound educational beliefs and values, establishes high expectations and creates an engaging and orderly atmosphere to foster learning for all.”

Each standard has functions and indicators that further delineate the standard, Blatt said. They answer the question of what must be done to effectively implement the standard, she said. The Education Department also provides schools with rubrics that go with the standards to help them determine what they need to do to improve, Blatt said, adding that every school has room for improvement. She said the committee should begin looking at other states’ standards to determine what standards West Virginia should adopt for high-functioning school boards.

In regard to counties under direct state control, Blatt said, her office sometimes hears from board members that they don’t know how to get out from under state intervention. She said that, if the committee develops standards, they might be useful in helping those school boards.

David Price, a coordinator in the Office of School Improvement, said standards for teachers, principals and superintendents evolved over time. He suggested that standards developed for school boards won’t be as specific as those other standards, but standards for school boards are needed. However, he added, even with the establishment of standards, operational issues won’t go away for school boards.

Price presented standards for effective school governance and a code of conduct for members of school boards that were adopted by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

 

Committee members consider how to proceed.

Haden then asked whether it had been decided that the committee should produce standards for West Virginia school boards. Parsons responded that the meeting was just an exploratory event and no decision had been made yet.

Jim Crawford, a Kanawha County school board member, said more school board members would be receptive to standards if they were developed by the WVSBA than if they were adopted by the state school board. Haden said the state board does not want to impose something from the top down.

Although she has had experience in developing standards for other groups, Blatt said she didn’t want to develop standards for the school boards. Murray said she wants the process to be collaborative.

Oxley then asked whether the committee has a choice to develop standards or not develop them. Wyatt said there is a perception that the state board was behind the effort to develop standards. If that is so, Haden said, that perception should be addressed. She said she thought the meeting was just educational. Rector said it was her understanding that the committee would have several meetings. Parsons said there is a lot of misunderstanding about the committee.

O’Cull asked whether the state school board would approve standards approved by the WVSBA. Haden responded, “We need to determine that. It’s a legal question.”

Seufer said nothing in state law requires a code or set of standards for school boards, but he thought the Pennsylvania standards were a good idea. He recalled seeing a code of civility posted at many school board meetings around the state and said that might have helped in keeping some meetings more civil than they might have been. Although nothing in the law requires a set of standards for school boards, there could be many practical uses for it, he said. For example, Seufer said, there is a law requiring school boards to review themselves annually, and a set of standards might be useful for that. Haden noted that principles from standards for teachers went into teachers’ evaluations.

Blatt said the standards for school boards should come from school board members themselves. Oxley asked whether there would be any connection between the school board standards and the evaluations of school systems conducted by the Office of Education Performance Audits. There would be no direct connection, Blatt said, but it would be helpful to be able to show the standards to boards to indicate what they need to do. O’Cull noted that the Office of Education Performance Audits does have leadership standards on which boards can be cited.

Last year, 27 school districts used some standards to see if they could get better, Blatt said. The movement is toward creating capacity-building and performance standards, she said.

Piccirillo noted that Pennsylvania created standards for school districts that range in size from the big city district in Philadelphia to small rural districts with as few as 500 students. He suggested that West Virginia could develop a list of top 10 standards.

Blatt said, in her work developing standards, “We started with the big rocks that make a good school.” But she reiterated that she and her colleagues from the Office of School Improvement were there just to share what they went through to develop other sets of standards, not to get involved in developing standards for school boards.

 

Smaller group is formed.

Parsons suggested forming a subcommittee to look at examples of standards from other states and bring suggestions back to the full committee. “It’s impossible to work from a blank slate,” she said.

Members of the subcommittee include:

  • Barbara Parsons of the Monongalia County school board
  • David Price of the Office of School Improvement
  • Priscilla Haden of the state school board
  • Gary Kable of the Jefferson County school board
  • Robin Rector of the Kanawha County school board
  • Charlotte Hutchins, superintendent of Raleigh County schools
  • Attorney Howard Seufer of Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love or Heather Deskins, general counsel for the state Education Department
  • Delegate David Perry of Fayette County
  • Jane Lynch, executive director of Regional Education Service Agency VIII

The plan is to also include someone from a group representing school employees – such as Dale Lee of the West Virginia Education Association, Judy Hale of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia or Bob Brown of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association – but none of them was present when the subcommittee was formed.

The tentative schedule is for the full committee to meet again early in December and for the subcommittee to meet sometime before then. O’Cull said the subcommittee’s proposals could be sent out for comments before the full committee meets.

“You all are learning very quickly,” Parsons said at the end. “It’s very difficult to give birth.”

 

By Jim Wallace

The West Virginia Department of Education and state school board’s package of legislative priorities includes items that should be welcomed by school boards, teachers and advocates of increased use of technology in education.

Supt. Jorea Marple presented those priorities to members of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability during their September meeting. She had promised to get the legislative package to lawmakers in August, but the special session dealing with redistricting prevented the commission from meeting that month.

At the top of the department’s list is OPEB – other post-employment benefits. West Virginia’s OPEB liability is estimated to be $9.3 billion, most of which consists of health care benefits promised to current and future retirees from the public sector. Several years ago, the Legislature assigned a substantial portion of the OPEB liability to be carried on the books of school districts. Since then, school boards have found that burden unreasonable and have been trying to get that decision reversed. Most of them have been involved in a lawsuit to get OPEB off of their books.

“We believe resolving the OPEB issue is essential to maintaining a thorough and efficient education system.” – Statement from the Education Department and state school board

“We believe resolving the OPEB issue is essential to maintaining a thorough and efficient education system,” the department’s legislative priorities package states. It further notes that the state Board of Education filed an amicus brief with the state Supreme Court on July 13 in support of the county school boards’ lawsuit. It also says that if the school boards are not relieved of the fiscal burden for personnel funded through the School Aid Formula it would affect their ability to uphold the requirements of providing students with a thorough and efficient education system.

Higher salaries are requested.

“We believe the ability to attract and retain high quality teachers is foundational to student achievement.” – Statement from Education Department and state school board on one of their legislative priorities

The next priority for the department is pay raises for educators and service personnel. “We believe the ability to attract and retain high quality teachers is foundational to student achievement,” the document states. “There is no single variable more powerfully linked to student achievement than the quality of the classroom teacher. The talented pool of West Virginia teachers currently leading WV classrooms continues to decline as retirement eligibility accelerates. Salary is a determining factor for career choice.”

As teachers’ unions frequently have emphasized, the average salary for teachers in West Virginia is ranked 48th in the nation. The department calls that ranking “detrimental to the economic and educational well-being” of the state. The legislative priorities document says the state needs a long-term plan to address the issue of attracting and retaining high-quality educators with a goal of reaching a ranking of at least 25th in the nation within a decade.

 

Technology upgrades are a big part of the package.

Although the department did not attach a price to boosting salaries, it did put fiscal notes on several other items. The biggest one calls for spending more than $22.9 million annually for four years to fund educational technology at six grade levels.

“We believe educational technology is a fundamental tool for educational improvement.” – Education Department and state school board

“We believe educational technology is a fundamental tool for educational improvement,” the document says. The reasons it gives for making such expenditures include:

  • Technology powers learning via new curricula, new teaching and more effective assessments.
  • Technology creates new parental connections.
  • Technology enhances administrative effectiveness and efficiency.
  • Technology helps prepare students for a digital-based workforce and improves student motivation, attitude and interest in learning.

The proposal includes infrastructure, tools and supports. It builds upon the annual investment in the Tools for Schools program, which supports existing technology use and infrastructure. Although the department is asking for funding to cover just six grade levels over four years, it plans to try for total implementation for all grade levels by 2020. There is flexibility in the plan to account for the assessed needs of particular schools and each district’s long-term technology plan.

The department’s statutory requests include:

  • Lifting the RESA funding cap – “We believe the eight Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) provide necessary targeted services to West Virginia public schools and communities.” The estimated cost is $1.56 million.
  • Educator mentoring and induction – “We believe a structured induction and support program for beginning teachers and administrators is a key to educator retention and effectiveness.” With 44 percent of West Virginia educators eligible to retire in the next five years, the department wants to prepare to bring in almost 10,000 people to replace them. Officials believe induction programs during teachers’ first three years can help retain them and reduce turnover. The cost is estimated to be more than $930,000 in addition to the current appropriation of $842,000 for a total of more than $1.77 million.

Marple also presented three items categorized as additional improvement package requests:

  • Career/technical education college and career readiness: Middle school modules and digital learning platform – It would develop career and technical career exploration modules for middle schools and establish a statewide digital platform for digital student portfolios that support career exploration, goal-setting and self-direction. The cost is estimated at $1.75 million.
  • Universal pre-K supports – It would establish a support system for the statewide pre-K efforts by providing staff for the Office of School Readiness, professional development and resources for County Collaborative Early Childhood Teams. The cost estimate is $400,200.
  • West Virginia Youth Science Camp – It would provide funding to extend the camp, which is located at Cedar Lakes, to two weeks for more in-depth exposure to scientific topics related to technology, engineering and math. The cost is estimated to be $219,954.

There are four requests under the heading of Legislative Mandates, which are aimed at helping the state school board educate school-age juveniles placed in certain facilities operated by the Department of Health and Human Resources. The requests are:

  • Education services for the Davis Center – Cost estimate is $250,569.
  • Education services for the McDowell County corrections facilities – Cost estimate is $694,629.
  • Improvement of career/technical education in juvenile programs – Cost estimate is $631,241.
  • Education services for Pressley Ridge at Laurel Park – Cost estimate is $598,000.

Finally, the legislative package says the Education Department and state school board plan to engage during the current school year in a series of discussions with diverse stakeholder groups on the following subjects:

  • Balanced calendar (year-round education)
  • Teacher evaluation
  • Attendance
  • Incentive packages for educators/teacher recruitment/retention
  • Steps 4, 5 and 6a of the School Aid Formula
  • Policy 2510 and secondary education
  • Revisions to the Office of Education Performance Audits’ Process for Improving Education to Reflect Growth Model
  • Recommendations from the Education Efficiency Audit

Each group will be expected to issue position papers and provide recommendations and implications for state code and state board policies. Those recommendations would be used to guide the development of future legislative priorities.

 

By Jim Wallace

The West Virginia Department of Education is getting ready to make significant changes in how the public school system tests students and uses test data to shape their educational experiences. Juan D’Brot, executive director of the Office of Assessment and Accountability, gave members of Education Subcommittee B at their September meeting a preview of what is to come by adopting the growth model for continuous improvement.

“This is something we’ve been working on diligently as a way to transition from a focus on AYP [adequate yearly progress] to one of continuous improvement,” he said. Because the public school system has just received the third year of WESTEST2 results, D’Brot said, “We’re able to now change the way we’re thinking about data in this fashion.” He said the system can project where a student might be next year.

D’Brot showed a sample chart for a student that displayed how the student’s scores changed from grades six through eight in both math and reading/language arts. It also projected a range of scores the student might be expected to achieve in the next year. D’Brot said he has “test-driven” such reports with parents, teachers and people at the department.

“It immediately focuses the discussion onto the future rather than just what happened and what’s the past.” – Juan D’Brot

“It immediately focuses the discussion onto the future rather than just what happened and what’s the past,” he said. The intent is not to deliver a verdict but to start a conversation, he said. D’Brot added that it is a first step, and the department is interested in feedback.

There are various ways to use the report, he said, and the department wants to provide a lot of support to schools and districts to help them understand how to use it as a springboard for conversations.

“Everyone understands the notion of proficient or not proficient, but the bigger question is: What does that proficiency or not proficient represent?” D’Brot said. “And that is more a question of what specific information does a student know, can do, can understand and can apply.”

All that information is in there, but the question is how people are using the data, he said, and so far, it has been hit or miss. The department’s goal is to have everyone use more of that information so they have more information about a student at the start of the school year and are able to understand better why they see the performance they see throughout the school year.

Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, asked whether one data point that seems to be askew from the others would be considered just an aberration or an indication of some significant change.

D’Brot said that teachers should share information with each other, and the model takes that into account. He said the model can look at other students’ similar performance and adjust for it.

“The computer does the hard job of putting the data together, but I would argue that the individual does the even harder job of interpreting the numbers.” – Juan D’Brot

“The computer does the hard job of putting the data together, but I would argue that the individual does the even harder job of interpreting the numbers,” D’Brot said.

 

New system would try to overcome current problems.

Delegate Stan Shaver, D-Preston, ask how a growth model could help when the test scores students must achieve are continually being increased. D’Brot said that’s an important point. Last year, about 35 percent of students had to be proficient for a school to make adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind law, while this year, it’s about 52 percent, and next year, it will be 67 percent, then 85 percent and then 100 percent, he said. But the growth model is effective, because students’ performance can be projected based on continuity of the test scores, he said.

D’Brot said the number of students who are hitting the mark is increasing. “It’s unfortunate that we’re not moving as fast as the federal guidelines are requiring us to, but I think that’s a very unrealistic climate,” he said. “I think that’s why you’re going to see a lot of states that are submitting waivers [from No Child Left Behind].”

Delegate Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, asked who will be responsible for developing the remediation and enrichment students will need – the state, county, school or individual teacher? D’Brot said the effort must be collaborative.

“It’s going to be simultaneously state led, district led and school led, because we understand that schools are already strapped with the resources that they have and the interventions they’re being required to provide.” – Juan D’Brot

“It’s going to be simultaneously state led, district led and school led, because we understand that schools are already strapped with the resources that they have and the interventions they’re being required to provide,” he said, and the department wants to focus the effort rather than do new things. “Many schools are already doing that. The problem is: Are they targeting it effectively?”

D’Brot said the state’s summative assessment, which would replace WESTEST 2, would be administered in the last 12 weeks of the year, and it wouldn’t be multiple choice. Instead, he said, it will be a computer-adaptive test that targets an item for a student based on what that student knows specifically. There will be more than 80,000 items, he said, and the computer will measure how a student answers the first five items. If a student gets a question wrong, it will make the next one easier. If a student gets a question right, it will make the next one harder. It will funnel down where a student is in a shorter time. D’Brot said a test that now takes 45 minutes would take only about 22 minutes in the future while providing twice the precision, twice the accuracy and twice the sensitivity. He said more items could be assessed, because more content could be covered.

“We’ll be able to figure out at what point a student lost understanding or missed a step, so it gives much more information in a much easier format,” D’Brot said. The new test is expected to be ready for the 2014-2015 school year, he said.

“The beauty of this Smarter Balance testing system…there is the potential of being able to capitalize on the way the assessment is delivered for the potential of end-of-course tests applying toward graduation credit, because the test becomes much more sensitive about what a student knows rather than just here’s 45 to 55 items across the entire year’s content,” D’Brot said. Instead, the test could target how much of the content a student has mastered and there will be the potential for enhanced student accountability.

 

More results would be available for the same cost.

Shaver asked what demands that would put on the teacher. D’Brot replied that the calculations would be done automatically by the computer. It would guarantee that the student would receive his or her scores within two weeks, he said, so the new assessments could be used optionally three times a year for interim tests.

“It really becomes a question of how do we maximize our use of the information, not just get it out there.” – Juan D’Brot

The cost would be comparable to current test costs, D’Brot said. “It really becomes a question of how do we maximize our use of the information, not just get it out there,” he said.

D’Brot added that if the department absolutely had to, it could do implement the new assessment system right now, but it couldn’t do it well.

In regard to the future of No Child Left Behind, he said, some states are filing for waivers from it, while the federal government also is working on a package to provide more guidance and flexibility under the law, which was passed during the Bush administration. The waivers submitted by several states range from a total overhaul of the accountability system to just some flexibility on one or two items, D’Brot said, but most states are holding off and waiting for federal guidance. He said West Virginia intends to continue to explore what’s going on with current waivers that have been approved and review the flexibility package before figuring out what works best for the state.

House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, asked what type of flexibility the federal government was considering. D’Brot said there is a lot of speculation, but what is expected is something on increasing the rigor of standards and assessments. He said the Education Department believes West Virginia has met the requirements for standards and assessment and is exploring how closely aligned the state is to the future vision of accountability. D’Brot said West Virginia has more information than most states, and its statewide performance isn’t that bad. If West Virginia does apply for a waiver, it likely will be narrow in focus, he said.

Upon further questioning from Armstead about how West Virginia is doing in meeting the requirements of No Child Left Behind, D’Brot said, “We are fully in compliance.” He added that all counties are in compliance but no county achieved adequate yearly progress in the latest round. However, he said, that is no surprise considering the way the system is designed.

 

By Jim Wallace

Some lawmakers are considering whether the public school system can reduce the educational and communication barriers facing West Virginia children who are deaf or hard of hearing. During September’s lengthy meeting of Education Subcommittee C, they heard testimony that much more could be done to help such students.

“Too often decisions about communication access and educational placement are made without sufficiently addressing the students’ cognitive, emotional, linguistic, social and academic development.” – Marissa Sanders

“Too often decisions about communication access and educational placement are made without sufficiently addressing the students’ cognitive, emotional, linguistic, social and academic development,” Marissa Sanders, executive director of the West Virginia Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, said. She said a pattern of ignorance and oppression might exist regarding the education of such children in the United States.

Eleven states have addressed this situation by passing the Deaf Child’s Bill of Rights, Sanders said, and nine others are working on such bills. She said all of those laws recognize several critical factors:

  • Access to communication opportunities
  • Availability of qualified personnel who can communicate directly
  • Opportunities to interact with same language-mode peers
  • Opportunities to interact with adult deaf and hard-of-hearing role models
  • Opportunity to benefit equally from all services and programs in their schools
  • Appropriate assessment

Sanders said her commission conducted a community survey in which 200 people responded, and more than 70 percent were deaf or hard of hearing. When asked which issues were most important to them, 60 percent chose education. More than 20 of them added comments about education.

Other information about the problems faced by the deaf and hard of hearing to which she referred include: comments compiled by Kanawha County interpreters, teachers and parents; comments received at town hall meetings held by the commission; e-mails from interpreters, teachers, parents and students; individual and small group conversations; and reports from key personnel and constituents.

The role of an educational interpreter, Sanders explained, is to communicate effectively classroom information between the teacher, the deaf student and other students who can hear. She said that communication should be based on the language level of the student and the goals of the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Although interpreters are considered to be members of students’ IEP teams, according to education policy, they report that they often are not invited to meetings, their contributions are not valued as highly as those of others, and their schedules are not accommodated, she said. Also, she said, even though interpreters are assigned to particular students, they often are pulled away to perform other duties as teachers’ aides or to work in the kitchen.

Although interpreters are required to reach a level of 3.5 on the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment, some interpreters report they see no consequences for those who have not scored high enough or even taken the test, Sanders said. They also get no rewards in pay or title when they meet the requirement, and they are denied funding for continuing education, she said.

Other problems Sanders said have been reported include: job postings that don’t meet state requirements, the hiring of people with no background as interpreters while some certified interpreters are not hired, and the placement of unqualified persons in classrooms with no orientation. She said incentives are needed to bring qualified interpreters to West Virginia or to encourage West Virginians to get the appropriate education and qualifications.

Sanders said parents, interpreters, teachers and students report that students who are deaf or hard of hearing face many problems their peers with normal hearing do not. Those problems include:

  • Being yelled at and ridiculed for not understanding teachers’ non-conceptual signs;
  • Being labeled “mentally impaired” because they do not understand English;
  • Being kicked out of school by interpreters or teachers for minor infractions, such as forgetting a book or pencil;
  • Being yelled at and reprimanded for mispronouncing phonics; and
  • Not being provided working equipment by audiologists.

The recommendations Sanders left with the subcommittee include:

  • Respect, use and develop each child’s unique communication mode to an appropriate level of proficiency.
  • Prioritize access to same language-mode peers of similar age and ability levels;
  • Encourage and facilitate access to hearing friends who know or want to learn a student’s communication mode (such as American Sign Language).
  • Provide opportunity to gain life skills by learning and becoming knowledgeable in technology that will accommodate the student (such as Video Phone, TTY, visual and tactile alarms and alerts).
  • Include in IEPs goals related to self-advocacy and self-determination, including how to use interpreters.
  • Provide opportunities and stress importance of parents’ learning to sign.
  • Avoid denying any deaf or hard-of-hearing child the opportunity for instruction or extracurricular activity in a particular communication mode or language solely because:
  • The child had some remaining hearing;
  • The child’s parents are not fluent in the communication mode or language being used; or
  • The child has previous experience with some other communication mode or language.
  • Establish a play group or American Sign Language classes for siblings to learn sign language.
  • Ensure that teachers are not used as interpreters.
  • Create more literacy programs for deaf and hard-of-hearing children.
  • Improve student access to technology.
  • Evaluate all interpreters and their signing skills.
  • Provide a remedial course on American Sign Language or Pidgin Signed English to correct interpreters’ signing.
  • Offer American Sign Language classes in high schools to fulfill foreign language requirements.

 

Type of hearing loss must be understood.

Annette Carey, low incidence coordinator in the Office of Special Programs, gave the subcommittee more ideas about how students who are deaf or hard of hearing could be supported. She said it’s important to understand whether students with some ability to hear have a conductive loss or a sensorineural loss.

With conductive loss, the issue is loudness and the problem usually can be corrected with medication or surgery. The problem with sensorineural loss is not loudness but clarity. Carey said most hard-of-hearing students have a mixed loss. She said hearing aids can help, but they amplify sounds that are needed as well as those that are not needed.

Carey said reading levels for students who are deaf or hard of hearing tend to be lower than their peers. A Gallaudet Research Institute study found that the median reading comprehension subtest score for 17- and 18-year-old deaf and hard-of-hearing students corresponds to a fourth-grade level for hearing students.

Language access is a problem, Carey said. She explained that the greatest effect of the disability is not the inability to hear accurately but access to language. Language is not taught but is acquired, she said, and the structure of language is learned by the time a child is three years old.

“It all comes down to access to language,” she said, adding that passionate battles have been fought since the 1800s on the proper way to educate students who do not have normal hearing.

Carey said 90 percent of all deaf children are born to hearing parents, and 90 percent never learn sign language. She also cited a study that found that there is no best method for teaching deaf or hear-of-hearing students and it’s not good to become fixated on one technique.

 Carey said parents have several choices for dealing with their children’s communication needs:

  • Auditory-Verbal Approach – maximum use of hearing to learn spoken language, stressing listening and talking;
  • Bilingual-Bicultural Approach – teach American Sign Language as the primary language and English as a second language;
  • Cued Speed – a system of hand-shapes to supplement speech-reading;
  • Oral Approach – use of spoken language only for face-to-face communication; and
  • Total Communication – use of all communication modalities available to acquire linguistic competence.

Methodologies vary widely within those approaches, she said. Carey added that educators must ensure access to the instructional environment while respecting parents’ choices.

“I have seen success in every one of these methodologies, and I have seen dismal failure in every one of these methodologies,” she said.

The most recent statistics show there are 411 deaf or hard-of-hearing students in West Virginia. They account for less than 1 percent of the students with Individualized Education Plans. Carey said more students have hearing disabilities but they are classified under other conditions.  She said there are 122 West Virginians from birth to age 21 who are both deaf and blind.

Carey said deafness and being hard of hearing should be considered as separate exceptionalities based on the person’s ability to access spoken communication. She said IEP teams should focus on how each student accesses information. Some districts want to label students with hearing disabilities as developmentally delayed or having communication disorders, but Carey said that, if they are deaf or hard of hearing, that’s how they should be classified.

There is universal screening for disabilities in newborns, but West Virginia does not do a good job of following up on those screenings, she said. “I’m fairly confident we can catch kids [with hearing problems], but it’s what we do with them once we find them,” Carey said.

 

Schools for the Deaf and the Blind get back to fundamentals.

The subcommittee also heard from Lynn Boyer, who has been superintendent of the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind since July 1.

“We are on a new journey. We are moving forward.” – Supt. Lynn Boyer

“We are on a new journey,” she said. “We are moving forward.”

By that, Boyer said, she meant that the schools are going back to their “fundamental roots.” She said half of the students are residential and the other half are day students. They don’t see themselves are disabled, she said.

Boyer said the deaf students don’t get involved much in cued speech or auditory-verbal methods. Instead, their primary means of communication is American Sign Language, she said.

“We are beginning to face this notion that we are the placement of last resort,” Boyer said. The schools should be considered the “placement of choice” at points along students’ journey to becoming adults who have hearing or vision disabilities, she said.

Boyer also wants to attract teachers from across the state to the campus in Romney to enrich their teaching skills. “We are establishing on campus a center for best practices,” she said. Her administration is developing a five-year strategic plan for the schools, she said.

 

DMV also accommodates people with hearing disabilities.

Toward the end of the meeting, the subcommittee heard briefly from Steve Dale, deputy commissioner of the Division of Motor Vehicles, who said his agency offers some accommodations for deaf and hard-of-hearing persons, but it could do better. He said that, counter to what some people believe, people with hearing disabilities don’t have higher crash rates than those with normal hearing.

Dale said his agency has worked closely with the Division of Rehabilitation to accommodate persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. Those accommodations include modifications to the written driver’s test based on American Sign Language and providing interpreters for the road skills test. The agency also provides for an optional deaf designation on driver’s licenses, Dale said.

Delegate Margaret Smith, D-Lewis, suggested that people with hearing impairments also should have the option of getting license plates that identify their disabilities.

 

By Jim Wallace

Legislators are looking into the possibilities of introducing more tablet-style computers into classrooms in West Virginia. Members of the Joint Standing Committee on Education expressed interest in that at their September meeting after receiving a presentation called “The Mobility Revolution” from Dr. Jon Landis of Apple, Inc.

“We’re at a pivotal point,” he said, predicting that mobile Internet access will exceed desktop access.

When he worked as a chemistry teacher, Landis had students memorize the Periodic Table until he realized that wasn’t the best way for them to learn how to use it. Likewise, he said, math students should be taught to solve problems not just do calculations, and even a second-grader can solve math problems with a four-function calculator.

“My value as a teacher is no longer content transfer,” Landis said. Instead, teachers should be content shepherds, he said, and a tablet computer like an iPad offers new opportunities to do that.

“A textbook has information that is locked and static, but the world is dynamic.” – Jon Landis of Apple, Inc.

 “A textbook has information that is locked and static, but the world is dynamic,” Landis said, adding that electronic textbooks also are dynamic. For example, a music theory class could have an electronic textbook with music included in it. He said an iPad is a personal learning tool, because it can have applications loaded onto it that personalize learning. Landis specifically referred to Inkling, which is billed as redefining textbooks for the iPad. It allows textbooks to be assembled chapter by chapter and for teachers to share their notes with students, he said.

Other advantages of electronic textbooks, Landis said, are that they can work in any language, they can read to the user, they can improve accessibility for blind people, and they can provide very effective assisted communication with autistic students. He said the costs of electronic textbooks are much lower than costs of printed textbooks, and they provide educators with more control over the contents.

When asked about the durability of iPads in the hands of children, Landis said they are all flash-drive based and have no hard drive that could fail, so they are more durable than laptop computers.

Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, asked if the camera function on iPads could be disabled. Landis said it could, but that would deprive students of an educational tool. He added that there are many management tools to control misuse of the camera.

Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said the ability of public schools to get iPads is somewhat prohibited by the way contracts are done in the state. He said committee staff members would be asked to put together information about that.

Plymale added that some schools can use money from local share for tools like tablet computers. He said lawmakers have been working on funding issues with the Education Department.

 

By Jim Wallace

A group of lawmakers looking into the acquisition of used computers for refurbishing to be used by needy students has received ideas from three organizations.

“It’s not just about access. It’s about what you’re going to do to create demand in counties to get online.” – Sonja Murray of One Economy

“It’s not just about access,” Sonja Murray, senior vice president for strategy and planning at One Economy, said. “It’s about what you’re going to do to create demand in counties to get online.”

One Economy is an 11-year-old nonprofit organization that refurbishes and distributes computers. Murray made her presentation at the September meeting of Education Subcommittee A.

By repurposing state resources, she said, every family in West Virginia could have hardware in its home and be able to go online within three to four years. Murray said her organization has done similar work across the country, changing policies in 42 states and the District of Columbia to provide incentives to get broadband Internet access into low-income housing.

“We could help you build this plan,” she said. Murray said the challenges of spreading computer use and Internet connectivity throughout West Virginia is that the state has only 1.8 million people, half of them are on food stamps, and the state has the largest portion of senior citizens, who are the hardest group of people to bring online.

“I’m always about going for the low-hanging fruit,” she said, meaning that families with school children would be easier to encourage to get connected.

Murray said the best practices in computer distribution include having:

  • An easy-to-understand-and-administer eligibility program;
  • Choice, such as by distributing coupons and allowing their use for both new and refurbished computers;
  • Requirements for families to pay for a portion of hardware costs; and
  • Availability of optional digital literacy classes.

On requiring families to pay for some of the hardware costs, Murray said, “It’s not a handout. If it’s totally free, there’s no value.” But she said to be wary of allowing people to perform community service in exchange for their portion of the costs.

An allocation of $1 million could provide families with about 10,000 computers, Murray said. A family’s share of the costs would be in the range of $50 to $150, she said.

“We care about West Virginia. We think there is something really special that could come here, because you are so close knit.” – Sonja Murray

“We care about West Virginia,” Murray said. “We think there is something really special that could come here, because you are so close knit.”

 

Mission West Virginia has related experience.

David Rogers, executive director of Mission West Virginia, said his organization has handled many social services since it was formed in 1997, but it always has had a technological side. For example, he said, the organization has taken surplus National Guard computers and helped to set up computer labs in at least one senior center in each county. Mission West Virginia also has become a Microsoft-authorized and Microsoft-registered organization for refurbishing computers.

“We have to look at the demand before anything is going to happen,” Rogers said. “I think it’s possible to open up a big pipeline for computers for refurbishing.”

Marcel Fortin, executive director of the Alliance of West Virginia Champion Communities, said his organization uses technology to address community problems. He said it is trying to figure out how to get as many computers as possible out into communities.

Many old computers end up in landfills, Fortin said, but some landfills no longer take monitors or television sets, because they cannot recover the lead in them. He wants to find out what the state is doing with its old computers and monitors.

 

Free and low-cost solutions can address some problems.

House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, asked how a poor family could afford Internet service and anti-virus software. Murray said a lot of free software is available, so people need to be educated about it. She said there also is a discussion in the federal government about having a universal service for basic broadband Internet connections for about $10 a month.

Poling asked whether the organization would get laptops instead of desktop computers. Murray said used laptops are bit harder to get right now, but within a couple of years, they are probably all that will be available. “You need to think about this as entry level,” she said.

Delegate Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, wondered if One Economy had much experience in other rural states. Murray said it has worked in rural areas of North Carolina, Oregon, California, Missouri and Texas. She added that the Benedum Foundation attracted One Economy to West Virginia and Cisco Systems has kept it in the state.

“We believe we’re actually onto something here that could be a pilot for the rest of the United States,” Murray said.

Duke said it might be good to find out what Frontier Communications plans to do about expanding broadband access.

Fortin said the Alliance of West Virginia Champion Communities works quite a bit with Frontier, and Frontier is very interested in what the alliance is doing. He said Frontier wants to wait until it gets done building its own broadband pipeline before getting very involved with the alliance’s projects. Fortin said Frontier is building the “middle-mile” network, and what is needed is demand to build out the “end-mile” connections.

 

By Jim Wallace

The Public Employees Insurance Agency already has put an expected deficit for the current fiscal year on its books, but officials are pleased that members are helping to hold down costs by using more generic drugs instead of brand-name drugs.

Jason Haught, the agency’s chief financial officer, told the PEIA Finance Board at its September meeting that premiums are expected to fall about $48 million short of what is needed to cover expenses in the fiscal year that runs through next June. By law, the agency must account for that projected shortfall as soon as possible, he said, so it has been included in the books for the fiscal year that ended last June. Without that $48 million deduction, PEIA’s total net assets for the last fiscal year would have been higher than the $152 million now listed.

Dave Bond, PEIA’s actuary told the Finance Board that the agency’s medical expenses for the 24 months running up through the end of the last fiscal year rose 7.8 percent. He said in-state medical expenses increased only 6.6 percent, but expenses at out-of-state facilities, where PEIA has less control, went up 11.2 percent.

Meanwhile, Bond said, the 24-month trend for non-Medicare drug expenses was an increase of 14.2 percent. He said utilization increased just 3.0 percent, but the cost per prescription went up 10.8 percent. 

Bond recommended increasing the trend assumptions by 1.0 percent over those used for the 2011 fiscal year. That means the medical trend will increase from 5.5 percent to 6.5 percent, while the drug trend will increase from 9.0 percent to 10.0 percent. Such calculations could affect the Finance Board’s decisions next month when it will approve on a plan for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

 

Use of generic drugs increases.

In a presentation about pharmacy expenses for PEIA members who are still in the active workforce, Ramon Vickman of Express Scripts, the agency’s pharmacy benefits manager, said the plan cost is $79.30 per member per month, which is a 9.3 percent increase over the prior year. He said the rate of usage of generic drugs increased by 5.0 percent to 77.5 percent. PEIA has been interested in increasing members’ use of generics, because they are much more inexpensive than brand-name drugs.

Vickman said the plan cost on a per member per month basis for specialty drugs increased 14.3 percent, while non-specialty drugs increased 8.5 percent. He said PEIA is doing better than other clients in Express Scripts’ book of business, because they have seen a 15.8 percent increase in specialty drugs.

Josh Sword, a Finance Board member, asked how utilization rates among PEIA members compare with those of other clients of Express Scripts. Vickman said PEIA’s utilization rates are higher, because the agency’s members tend to be older and have more medical problems.

The really good news for PEIA, he said, is that some of the most-used brand-name drugs by PEIA members are scheduled to have their patents expire in 2012, and others’ patents will expire in the next few years. Vickman said PEIA could save more than $24.2 million in 2012 based on current utilization and almost $52.1 through 2015.

Troy Giatras, a Finance Board member, warned that those savings might not be so easy to achieve, because drug manufacturers will come up with new drugs they will promote as being more effective. Vickman said Express Scripts will watch for those developments. He said PEIA members will be able to get those new brand-name drugs only after determining that others don’t work well enough.

“We know what the pipeline is.” – Ramon Vickman of Express Scripts

“We know what the pipeline is,” Vickman said.

Every 1 percent increase in the generic fill rate saves the plan 2.1 percent, he said. By increasing the generic fill rate over the last year, PEIA saved more than $13.5 million and members saved more than $2.4 million, Vickman said. If PEIA members had reached the maximum potential generic fill rate, another $13.1 million could have been saved, he said. Vickman suggested PEIA could increase the generic fill rate further by increasing the differential between generic and brand copayments. 

 

Efforts are made to lower costs for retirees.

Haught told the board that the Retiree Health Benefit Trust Fund finished the 2011 fiscal year with more than $417 million in net assets held for post-employment benefits.

Tim Snyder of Humana told the board that his company is very pleased with the “wonderful relationship” it has with PEIA as that relationship heads toward the end of its second year. PEIA Medicare retirees have what he called a “passive PPO” plan that includes standard and benefit assistance options. A PPO is a preferred provider organization, but Snyder said the passive PPO allows members to see any provider that accepts Medicare payments.

Humana provides dedicated service teams that include: account management, an account implementation manager, an account concierge specialist, a medical director and provider relations. Snyder said Humana also provides several services, such as the Silver Sneakers fitness program to help retirees manage their health conditions. The company also provides a program called Humana Cares that identifies and assists PEIA members with chronic conditions and complex cases, such as managing acute diabetes.

In regard to drug costs for retirees, Vickman of Express Scripts said the plan cost is $226.94 per member per month and retirees’ generic fill rate is 76.6 percent. Specialty drugs make up 10.3 percent of the plan cost, he said.

Vickman said the expiration of patents on brand-name drugs for retirees should save PEIA almost $18.7 million in 2012 and a total of more than $38.9 million through 2015. He said that, if retired members would make maximum use of generics, PEIA could have save another $11.5 million this past year.

PEIA Director Ted Cheatham said bids have been received for the agency’s prescription drug program, and bids are due in mid-October for the Medicare Advantage program. He said the agency also will put its wellness contract out for bid. All of those new contracts are to become effective next July 1, he said.

 

By Jim Wallace

One group of legislators has learned that people covered by the Public Employees Insurance Agency will have to avoid Walgreens when getting their prescriptions filled.

Ted Cheatham, director of PEIA, told the Select Committee on PEIA, Seniors and Long-Term Care that PEIA members will have to get prescriptions filled at pharmacies other than Walgreens next year. He said that, effective Jan. 1, 2012, Walgreens will no longer be part of the Express Scripts national network, and all Walgreens in West Virginia are affected by that change. Express Scripts is PEIA’s pharmacy benefits manager.

Cheatham said that, unfortunately, Walgreens sent out letters to PEIA members before PEIA could do it.

 

By the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation

In a policy paper, “Strategies for Rescuing Failing Public Schools: How Leaders Create a Culture of Success,” released Wednesday by the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation, co-authors Alberto Carvalho and Dr. Steven Paine, argue that strong leadership can help even the worst performing schools achieve dramatic changes in achievement and morale.

Carvalho is superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the nation's fourth largest school district; Paine is senior advisor to the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation and the former state superintendent of schools for West Virginia.

Based on their experience transforming some of the lowest-performing schools and districts in the U.S., the authors suggest it is critical to select, develop and appoint superintendents and principals who will insist on cultural and environmental change while instituting high standards of academic achievement and devoting greater resources toward developing exceptional teachers.

A critical element for success, the authors write, involves changing the culture of a low-performing school or district from one that expects failure to one that insists upon success. Cultural change is difficult to quantify and assess, the authors acknowledge, making it equally challenging to systemize and scale. It can be accomplished, however, by developing and advancing education leaders committed to cultural change and high academic standards for all students.

During the 1960s and '70s, it was believed by many that an "environment of poverty breeds values inimical to learning," and that schools were powerless to overcome the effects of poverty on educational achievement. The authors highlight more recent education research, which demonstrates that all students can learn; they insist schools have the responsibility for implementing the necessary disciplinary, curricular and professional development methods to ensure they do.

The paper details Supt. Carvalho's and Paine's firsthand experience at successfully turning around failing schools and districts – urban and rural -- in West Virginia and Florida by:

  • An intense focus on instructional standards, with correspondingly high standards for educational achievement for all students, regardless of race or background;
  • Measurement and accountability for meeting student achievement goals;
  • Making better use of digital technology to collect student performance data for ongoing, formative assessment; and
  • Supporting great teachers through focused professional development.

Carvalho discussed the paper's themes as a featured speaker at the third annual "Innovation in Education" Summit in New York City on Wednesday.

More information is available at: http://www.sacbee.com/2011/09/28/3944778/miami-dade-county-superintendent.html#ixzz1ZML7L7dc.

 

Former First Lady Laura Bush will serve as the keynote speaker at The Education Alliance’s 2011 Annual Dinner Celebration on Wednesday, Nov. 9.

“The Education Alliance is extremely honored to have the former first lady as our 2011 annual dinner speaker,” Patricia Kusimo, president and chief executive officer, said in a written statement. “Mrs. Bush is known throughout the world for her poise, grace and style. She serves as the U.N. Ambassador for the Decade of Literacy [and] has been a strong proponent of education as a means to greater prosperity and freedom, particularly in her advocacy for women in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Mrs. Bush has also been an accomplished author and former educator who is passionate about reading and learning.”

The dinner celebration will be held in Charleston at the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences of West Virginia. It will begin with a reception at 5:30 p.m. followed by dinner at 6:30. The event is a fundraiser to support the organization’s mission to prepare West Virginia students for post-secondary education and career opportunities.

For more information, call 304-342-7850 or go to the alliance’s website: www.educationalliance.org.