Wade Linger: Leave education standards to the educators

Serving on the state Board of Education for six years, I have seen a lot.

In spite of the drubbing the state board has taken during this legislative session, I am proud of our record. We have accomplished reforms that nobody thought possible as recently as five years ago.

Contrary to critics’ claims that the Board of Education doesn’t listen, this board has been very reform-driven. Working with the public, teachers, administrators, legislators, and the governor, we have listened, and we have acted.

Every school in West Virginia now has a fiber-optic high-speed Internet connection. Few states can say that. We are even doing pilot projects to allow students without Internet access to take home pre-loaded computers to do their homework.

We decentralized professional development by eliminating Charleston-based positions and pushed most training to the counties. That means more time in the classrooms and less time in Charleston.

We reformed hiring practices to put teachers and principals in control. Seniority no longer trumps other factors when hiring teachers.

We instituted a new evaluation system that evaluates performance every year. Experienced teachers used to be evaluated only if they were singled out for special attention.

We directed the Office of Education Performance Audits to do on-site reviews of all schools to ensure they are up to par on all aspects of school operations. We know there is more to good schools than test scores.

We initiated a program to assign a grade of A through F to each school. Pressure to delay and repeal the A-F system has been significant. But the governor is in favor, the Board is for it, and I believe the public deserves it. Transparency is important.

We took the state out of the school calendar business. Now each county is free to set its own school calendar each year to get 180 days of instruction.We now require new elementary teachers to pass a test guaranteeing they have the skills to teach reading. We know that students must learn to read so they can read to learn.

There is a pattern to the Board’s actions. We are pushing more authority out to the local level away from Charleston, while we are stepping up accountability to ensure that students are not shortchanged.

Anyone with the illusion that this board is wedded to the status quo need only look to our choice of state superintendent: Dr. Michael Martirano. He is not one of the “good ol’ boys” that many expected. Martirano’s track record of increased graduation rates and improved student achievement in Maryland is indisputable.

As a conservative, I had high hopes that this Legislature, with its new majority, would free the state’s education system from too many laws and rules, as recommended by 2012 education efficiency audit.

Instead, the Legislature has wasted precious time debating our in-state developed Next Generation Standards, usually referred to as Common Core.

Opponents say the state board blindly adopted Common Core out of allegiance to left-wing Democrats in D.C.

As a conservative involved in the process, I can tell you that’s not true. The irony is that these same people blindly obey the national right-wing doctrine that the Core must be abolished at all costs.

Interestingly, no anti-Common Core legislator has been able to point to one single Common Core standard with which they have a problem.

To their credit, Senate conservatives look at this issue with cooler heads. Many have taken time to sort out the rhetoric from reality. I applaud their willingness to look beyond the hysterics and seek facts.

Even so, I fear that we are headed for a new bureaucratic panel to re-hash standards and keep our schools in turmoil for years to come if the Legislature doesn’t leave the educating to educators.

Wade Linger is a member of the state Board of Education.

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