Anyone interested in the current and future status of public education in West Virginia should read Wade Linger’s letter of resignation from the state Board of Education.  After seven years on the board, Linger had clearly been worn out by the effort it takes to bring about change to an entrenched, bureaucratic and politicized system of public education.

The state Constitution empowers the state Board with the “general supervision” of our schools.  Historically, however, the Board was largely compliant with the direction dictated by the state Department of Education and the Superintendent.

That changed when Linger, Gayle Manchin, Lloyd Jackson, Mike Green and several others started a few years ago flexing the atrophied muscle of the Board to try to make long-needed improvements to our schools, such as more rigorous standards and accountability.

According to Linger, the result was fire from all sides, including what he called “encroachment” by the state Legislature into education’s business.

“Yet after more than seven years on the Board, including two as President, I can say with complete confidence that the Legislative branch has systematically ignored the Constitution for decades,” Linger wrote.

Perhaps the last straw for Linger was another attempt by the most conservative wing of the Republican-led Legislature to develop yet another set of standards.  HB 4014 is rooted in the deep-seated objections to the Common Core standards.

(Last year, the Board revised the Common Core-based standards after reviewing 240,000 comments by educators and others, but Republican critics say the new standards remain too similar to Common Core.)

Linger contends the GOP lawmakers pushing 4014 are ill-informed.  “Now that Republicans are in charge, they use their new found political power to attack standards about which they know nothing,” he wrote.  “In layman’s terms, they want to tell educators what to teach and what not to teach.”

West Virginia’s teachers, many of them frayed and underpaid, could be heading back to the classroom in August wondering, “What standards are we supposed to use this year?”

Meanwhile, Linger grew frustrated with the struggle by him and other members of the Board to bring about meaningful accountability for schools and teachers.  “Heaven forbid that parents might actually know the academic quality of their local school,” he wrote.  “We don’t want to embarrass anyone, right?”

I interviewed Linger many times during his tenure and never knew him to have any agenda other than what he believed were the needed improvements in public education.  You could disagree with his direction or his ideas, but not his motives.

He’s gone now, but other strong voices remain on the state Board, and they will have to continue asserting their responsibility of providing independent and apolitical supervision of our Constitutionally-required “thorough and efficient system of free schools.”

Otherwise, our public education system will remain stuck in a bureaucratic morass and subject to the latest political winds.