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Public Education’s Inflection Point

The results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) student tests released last week were bad news for West Virginia. The math and reading outcomes for fourth and eighth graders were the lowest ever, and next to the bottom nationally.

There was no way for education or political leaders to spin the results to make them sound better than they were, and good for them for not trying. When you have a problem, the most important first step is to acknowledge its existence.

Bill Gates said, “Sometimes, I think my most important job as a CEO is to listen for bad news. If you don’t act on it, your people will stop bringing bad news to your attention, and that’s the beginning of the end.”

State School Superintendent David Roach has only been on the job a few months, but he agrees this is a low point and he accepts the challenge.  “I think the data serve as a call to action for all of us,” he said on Talkline Monday

Roach has already been working on improvement plans. The components will include prioritizing reading, writing, and math at the elementary level to build a solid foundation for the youngest learners and advance those skills for students in later grades.

“It starts with me, but every superintendent, every principal, every teacher… it’s a wake-up call.  I don’t think we have any excuses.” He said it is time to “roll up our sleeves and get started.”

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw (R, Clay) is also committed to making K-12 education a priority.  He met with Governor Justice last week to begin laying the groundwork for improving education during the upcoming legislative session.

“Coronavirus had exactly the impact that so many people were afraid it has had on students for the past two years,” Hanshaw said on Talkline Monday, “and it underscores, I hope to everyone—and certainly to me—the need to make sure we’re going to resource up properly every school in the state to correct the ship of state, so to speak.”

For example, Hanshaw plans to again champion a bill to provide more money to hire teaching assistants in the early grades. A scaled back version of the bill passed the House in the last session, but it died in the Senate.

West Virginia students have had poor outcomes for years. These NAEP results are simply a dramatic exclamation point to the ongoing struggles.   Historically, education leaders have often tried to cherry pick positive nuggets while glossing over the bad.

But as entrepreneur Eric Ries said, “Better to have bad news than good news we made up.”  The bad news is here and undeniable. The honest recognition of the where we are is not an end, but rather an opportunity for an inflection point in public education.

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