Our K-12 system of education in West Virginia is failing.
In August, education officials in West Virginia released the test scores for our K-12 students. In the classic style of an underperforming bureaucrat, they called the results “disappointing.” Well, that’s certainly qualifies as an understatement. Perhaps a more accurate characterization would be “disastrous.”
175,000 elementary, middle and high school students took the Smarter Balanced test under the Common Core standards.
Our best performance was fifth graders taking the English/language arts test – where only 51% of our students were proficient – barely half.
In math, only 30% of our fifth graders were proficient.
It gets worse - or, as we assume that our education leaders would say, "more disappointing."
Our proficiency in math was 18% for 9th graders; 15% for 10th graders and 20% for 11th graders. This means that 80% of our kids who are one year from going to college or going out to get a job – are not prepared for the basic math skills they need to succeed.
Perhaps my biggest “disappointment” was the reaction by some of our education officials. Only 46% of our 3rd graders were proficient in English and language arts and 44% in math. One education official touted this as a “success” since the number of students who tested proficient was higher than they predicted.
She stated: “That’s why we were pleased to see, on both English/language arts and math, that those students are outperforming.”
Outperforming whom? For you education officials who are not proficient in math, 46% and 44% are less than half! Why are you “pleased”? Because they did poorly, but not as bad as you thought they would?
Perhaps the biggest real disappointment was the reaction of the public. Education officials and many of our elected public officials performed the obligatory head shaking and hand wringing. For the most part, the media treated it as a one-day story (Hoppy Kercheval was the exception). The public’s response was a collective yawn, perhaps the result of low expectations and low-test scores becoming the norm in West Virginia. There was no public outcry, no organized outrage, and no march on the Capitol.
Many candidates and the low information consultants who advise them jumped to blame the cause de jour – Common Core. True, Common Core should be repealed. However, merely ridding our system of Common Core or throwing in a side dish of blame on our teachers and administrators will not fix the problem with our K-12 education in West Virginia.
In fact, one of the true strengths of our education system is our teachers and our administrators who have the ability to change lives - when not burdened by a system that was created for another time.
And that’s the problem.
Our K-12 school system is rooted in a time when our jobs, our businesses, technology, our families, our kids and society, in general, were vastly different. Yet, we continue to operate our schools as if we were still living in the 1870s or the 1930s.
Consider the following:
Despite advances in transportation since the 1800s, most of our students are still required to attend a school in their county and closest to their home.
We still base our school calendar on the need to have students home in the summer to work on the farm. This may have been an appropriate accommodation up through the 1920s when 21.6% of our labor force was still involved in agriculture. Today, that percentage has fallen to less than one-half of one percent.
We still schedule the school day as if all mothers are going to be at home at 3:00 p.m. fixing supper. While such a situation may still be desired, it is clearly less prevalent.
As we did in the 1870s, we move our students through the system based upon how much time they’ve spent sitting in a classroom instead of achievement.
We still use a system of credits that was developed in 1910 that measures a student’s knowledge based upon seat time and their ability to demonstrate a minimum amount of proficiency. At the end of the semester or the end of school year, the bell rings and that’s it – your educated – no matter how much you know or don’t know. It’s always been amazing to me that no matter what the subject – biology, English, calculus, etc., - or by whom it’s being taught – good teacher, bad teacher, okay teacher – everything a student needs to know can be taught in 50 minutes a day, 5 days a week for 17 weeks.
Despite all the technology surrounding us and a generation of techno-savvy students, we still place teachers in front of the classroom and use, primarily, one teaching style: “I talk, you listen, you learn.”
What has clinging to this old system given us? Other than familiarity, I would say “disappointment” - and students who are not prepared for good paying jobs – and employers who don't want to come here.