Opinion

January 20, 2017 - Volume 37 Issue 1

Commentary

“Search for the truth is the noblest occupation of man; its publication is a duty.” - Anne Louise Germaine de Stael (1766-1817), a French-speaking Swiss author living in Paris and abroad who influenced literary tastes in Europe at the turn of the 19th century.

 


 

 

By Greg Prudich

Is pointing out the problem a solution? Or is it simply acknowledging what we already know? We all know the challenges we face in public education. Does a simplistic, high-stakes test-based scoring system offer West Virginia any hope of improving education? Or is it yet another way to point fingers — without offering solutions?

A to F is the newest way to allegedly measure success in West Virginia’s public schools. We are told that it is a way to hold accountable those who educate our children. The problem with that idea is that what A to F purports to measure — student achievement — is not what it really measures.

The idea that one test is a measure of student achievement is a failed theory. The consequence is that we teach to a test — we bribe, beg and plead with our students to do well on the test — even though it has no real meaning to the students. We spend far too much of our public school money on preparing students for the test, instead of simply teaching them. After all, testing is how we measure student success.

The test has become the tail that wags the dog of public education. Time for change.

Some will say that A to F is more than just the test score — well it does include attendance rates, graduation rates and college and career readiness, all important, to be sure — but, once again, they do not go to the real issue, student achievement.

They are elements that can relate to success, but they do not actually measure success. More to the point, they do not even apply to all grade levels, since third-graders don’t graduate and aren’t at a point where we can “measure” college and career readiness.

We don’t test every grade, and we don’t test all subjects. We are attempting to measure student achievement by student behavior — if I am in school, then I am succeeding; if I am not, then I have failed.

Ever know a kid who could miss a week of school at a time and was still the smartest kid in the building? Or the youngster who graduates but can’t read well or perform basic math? You see, the simple acts of attendance or graduation, while important, do not measure achievement. Time for change.

Where to begin?

Simply put, the Legislature and West Virginia Board of Education stifle public education in their micromanagement of our public schools. In spite of years of effort by many to end top down management of our school system, little has changed. We continue to be one of the most-regulated and over-legislated school systems in our nation. And those doing the micromanaging have the audacity to use A to F to hold teachers, administrators and county school systems accountable. All the while, they manage the classroom from above and have no accountability themselves.

These emperors have no clothes. In fact, I would propose that it is the Legislature and state board that are largely responsible for the current state of our public schools in West Virginia. They have so managed our public schools as to stifle innovation, crush creativity and create an environment where our best and brightest don’t want to teach — and those already teaching get out at the earliest date.

So we need to begin by acknowledging that, while West Virginia government may mean well, it has made a mess of things when it comes to public education. They need to step back, take a hard look at their “contributions” and accept that they may be doing more harm than good. Their new mantra should be “less is more.” Time for change.

Of course, just getting Charleston off the backs of our county schools is but one of many beginnings to improve our schools. (I won’t be holding my breathe on that anyway — if I have learned anything about public schools in West Virginia in my 26 years as a parent of students and 17 years as a county board member, it is that Charleston has no intention of giving up its power over county schools.)

Fixing our schools must focus, first and foremost, in the classroom — between the teachers and students and parents.

Fixing our schools has to include an effort to fix our communities, addressing the drug issues devastating our communities and working with families earlier, to see they get the resources they need to help their children.

We must focus our resources on early learning, more perse opportunities to gain diplomas, better teacher preparation, smaller class size, better vocational technical opportunities, tapping synergies between county schools and community colleges, better teacher pay, stabilized benefits, and on and on.

That’s how we begin to tackle our troubles.

What we don’t do is pat ourselves on the back for A to F. It is not a solution, but a cudgel used to push more test preparation. It will not improve achievement — but it may improve test scores. A to F will not result in better schools — but it may result in better test scores.

It is all so meaningless and sad. After all the time, money and effort — after all the smart people involved — this is what we come up with: chasing test scores.

We have come up with yet another way to measure success without actually measuring success.

We can, and must, do better, or we lose another generation of our children to mediocrity.

Gregory S. Prudich, of Princeton, is former president of the Mercer County Board of Education and of the West Virginia State School Board Association.

Editor’s Note: Used by permission of Mr. Prudich. This Op-ed appeared in the January 14 edition of the Charleston Gazette-Mail (Gazette Opinion). Use by permission of the Charleston Gazette-Mail.