There is no greater responsibility of state government than to provide a thorough education for our children. Thomas Jefferson felt so strongly about the importance of public education that he wrote the following:
“I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness.”
President Jefferson clearly understood the value of public education as critical to society and personal fulfillment. As good citizens, we must be guided by a moral imperative to empower our students through a world-class education. Therefore, it is necessary to fully examine the performance of the education system within West Virginia. The future of our children is too important to leave this matter unexplored. Every child matters.
The evidence prepared by the United States Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), does not reflect well on West Virginia’s public education system. Compared to students in other states, West Virginia struggles to provide our children with an education that is equal to their peers throughout America. For example:
In math, West Virginia’s fourth-grade students rank 39th in the nation. By the eighth grade, they have slipped to 46th.
In reading, West Virginia’s fourth-grade students rank 36th in the nation. By the eighth grade, they drop to 45th.
Of the states that measure Grade 12 performance and for which data is available, West Virginia students score last in both math and reading.
This data indicates our public education system needs reform. Every citizen should demand a first-rate education for children. West Virginia children and teachers are as smart, gifted, and blessed as any in America. We should expect our students to score at the top levels in the nation. Unfortunately, many people become complacent with a system that produces poor results. We should not accept this performance. Students deserve a world-class education that will develop their mind, curiosity, and God-given talent.
Faced with the unpleasant evidence that the West Virginia education system is struggling to provide students with skills that are on par with students in other states, everybody – teachers, students, and citizens alike – should be motivated to make changes that will improve outcomes for our children. Every responsible citizen should make it their duty to improve our education system. Our children deserve the best.
The first step is to insure that teachers are well-compensated. In 2018, without raising taxes on any citizen, the legislature appropriated over $150 million for historic pay raises and benefits for teachers and school personnel. We are committed to yet another significant investment in these valuable people during the 2019 legislative session. Teachers are the key components in an effective education and must be competitively compensated. These pay raises and benefit enhancements represent the largest compensation improvement in state history.
In addition, we should consider concepts that other states have used to improve student achievement such as empowering parents and students with options that better serve their needs, charter schools, and Education Savings Accounts. Giving flexibility and choices to parents will drive improved performance. Many other vital improvements to the public school system should be implemented. These include incentives for those who teach math and other high-need courses, more control of classrooms by teachers, flexibility in school calendars, curriculum, and personnel decisions. West Virginia must employ the best-practices that have been used in other states. We should not lag behind.
The most important element in the education process is the classroom teacher. West Virginia is blessed with many talented and effective teachers, but our state’s current policies are too restrictive and require so much paperwork that our many great teachers are not able to perform their fundamental task of educating the next generation.
These and other necessary reforms in public education will be vital to the continued resurgence of our state. In the words of President John F. Kennedy:
“Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. Our requirements for world leadership, our hopes for economic growth, and the demands of citizenship itself in an era such as this all require the maximum development of every young American’s capacity. The human mind is our fundamental resource.”
I am confident that the West Virginia public education system can be the best in the nation. Let us begin the journey that will enable our youth to realize their amazing potential. Why would we not do all we can for our children?
Mitch B. Carmichael, R-Jackson, is the West Virginia Senate President.