Education reform a moving target

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State school board members were briefed on education reforms hashed out by a panel formed by Gov. Joe Manchin after legislators failed to reach consensus in a spring special session.Board member Wade Linger noted that the panel's recommendations aren't in line with the legislation the board recommended to the governor in April."We asked for a blue ball and we ended up with a yellow triangle," Linger said."A couple months ago we put forth a package ... is anybody ever going to come to us and say, 'Here's what we proposed and here's what's going to happen' and see if there's any relationship at all?" he added."At some point I would like to see 'Here's our proposal, here's what we meant by that and here's what happened.'" The board's big-ticket recommendations included new charter school legislation, called "Charter Innovation Zones 2.0;" alternative certification programs for non-teachers; a teacher performance monitoring system based on student performance and other factors; incentive-based pay for teachers; and changes that would allow the state board to remove ineffective principals in a timely fashion.State superintendent Steve Paine outlined for the board the 14 proposals for education bills the governor's panel has drafted for consideration in a special session next week.Manchin handpicked the workgroup after May's education-focused special session dissolved. Lawmakers couldn't agree on the bills in that session and the governor ended the session after just a week.Manchin appointees to the panel included Sens. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, Erik Wells, D-Kanawha; Richard Browning, D-Wyoming; Dan Foster, D-Kanawha; and Jesse Guills, R-Greenbrier; Delegates Mary Poling, D-Barbour; Ron Fragale, D-Harrison; Josh Stowers, D-Lincoln; and Ray Canterbury, R-Greenbrier; as well as representatives from West Virginia's American Federation of Teachers chapter, the West Virginia Education Association and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association.While there's no guarantee the Legislature will take up the proposals, the group recommended bills that would set class size limits for seventh- and eighth-graders, establish alternative schools for troubled elementary and middle school students and increase teacher pay, among other things.The group also submitted revised versions of bills from May's special session establishing "teacher empowerment teams," alternative teacher and principal certifications, Innovation Charter Schools and compulsory health screening.If passed, the workgroup's resolution offering across-the-board teacher and service personnel pay raises would increase teacher pay by $1,000 and service personnel pay by $500.The bill reads, "West Virginia's unadjusted average teacher salary is less than those of the contiguous states which puts West Virginia at a competitive disadvantage for employing the best teachers." It states pay increases would "assist in attracting the best and the brightest students to the teaching profession."Another proposal would turn schools with seventh and eighth grades into innovation zones to allow them to limit class sizes for those grades. The bill says that would "be beneficial in addressing academic achievement and student discipline problems."One proposed bill would establish up to five alternative schools or other programs for elementary and middle school children with acute discipline problems "so that they can return to the regular classroom without further disrupting the learning environment."Another would require the state board to establish "uniform definitions of disruptive student behavior" as well as uniform standards for placing students in alternative settings, or using other intervention methods.One bill requests the Legislature's Joint Committee on Government and Finance to conduct a study on giving teachers adequate planning time, as well as improving teaching and learning. The workgroup resolution says elementary teachers often have as little as 30 minutes for a planning period.Conversely, another proposed bill would relax a law guaranteeing teachers a daily planning period. The revised bill would allow teachers to take on other responsibilities, like covering an absent teacher's class, as long as the teacher consents to the extra work.The workgroup also submitted a revised version of a bill from the governor's first special session designed to give teachers salary supplements for extra duties or special instructional assignments.The new proposal would allow counties to give additional, non-state money to teachers and administrators who work in high poverty, high minority or low performing schools, and more money to teachers hired in areas of critical need.In other business, board members got their first look at the state Department of Education's 2010-11 strategic plan Wednesday.Member Lowell Johnson, chairman of the board's strategic planning committee, requested that board members put off action on the new plan until next month's meeting to give everyone time to read the report.Johnson did mention some of the plan's major changes Wednesday, including a directive to better inform teachers, administrators, school officials and community members about the powers of Local School Improvement Councils.Paine said teachers and administrators often complain about restrictive board policies, not realizing their school's improvement council could make many changes through waiver requests to the state board and the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability."I think the answer's right there," Paine said.Since the Legislature mandated the councils in the early 1990s, Paine says LSICs have requested 1,500 policy waivers from the state board. But not one school group has requested a code change from the Legislature, he said.Board member Linger said the education department needs to do a better job telling the public about LSICs and their policy-changing powers.Fellow member Delores Cook said she agreed with Linger."I don't think we can say enough about the importance of LSICs," she said.Johnson said the department also should spread the message to county boards of education."There needs to be a great deal of professional development. I don't think county boards understand LSICs."Johnson said many principals don't understand the organizations either, and even if they do, they don't fully implement the committees.Linger suggested the department inform members of the public about LSICs and reform powers via advertisements.Paine said he would like to better educate principals about the councils before advertisements begin so the administrators would be ready to welcome the influx of people. However, the state superintendent agreed that commercials are a good idea."When the dust settles, I would like to take a really active role in this," he said.Also Wednesday, Donna Landin, who is the "eLearning" coordinator for the office of school and school system improvement, gave board members a look at the department's Learn21 website.The site,, gives elementary, middle and high school students access to interactive math tutorials when school is not in session. The lessons are tailored to West Virginia's content standards, so students receive extra help on things they're already learning in the classroom.The state board also unanimously re-elected all its current officers Wednesday. Board president Priscilla Haden, vice president Jenny Phillips and secretary Bob Dunlevy all will spend another year in office."I appreciate the trust you've placed in me for another year. It's been the most exciting year and the most all-involved year I've noticed in education in all my experience," Haden, a former teacher and Kanawha County school board member, said after she was re-elected."I hope you will join with me in continuing to push forward as you've done in the past."Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or


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