CHARLESTON, W.Va.--Gov. Joe Manchin says strict teacher hiring and firing laws should be softened to make it easier to get rid of poor teachers.Manchin said the state Department of Education already removes and replaces county superintendents when it takes over lagging school systems and should have the ability to remove school system employees as well."The whole system should be held accountable," he said.Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, agreed the process for removing ineffective school personnel should be easier, but said school systems also should reward teachers for doing a good job."We need to be in a position where we have the courage to tell people, 'This profession's not for you,' and at the same time tell teachers that are doing outstanding jobs, 'You need more pay,' " Wells said. "Not all teachers are created equal, but we have a pay system that treats them as equal."Wells has long opposed the state's rigid teacher hiring and firing laws. He introduced charter school bills in the last two legislative sessions that would have made hiring and firing school-level decisions, a proposal that caught some flak from teachers' unions.His 2009 bill didn't make it out of committee for a vote by the whole Senate. And Wells yanked his 2010 bill shortly after introducing it, anticipating a new charter school bill in the governor's promised special session.In his January State of the State address, Manchin pledged to convene a special legislative session if West Virginia was not chosen for the first round of funding in the U.S. Department of Education's $4.3 billion Race to the Top program.West Virginia placed 36th among Race to the Top's 41 first-round applicants. Only Tennessee and Delaware ultimately were awarded funds.The state Department of Education presented a booklet of proposed special session legislation to the governor earlier this week.The booklet included five big-ticket proposals meant to better the state's chances at Race to the Top money.Those included a teacher performance monitoring system based on student performance and other factors; incentive-based pay for teachers; changes that would allow the state board to remove ineffective principals in a timely fashion; alternative certification programs for non-teachers; and new charter school legislation called "Charter Innovation Zones 2.0."Manchin said he hopes to fulfill the state school board's wish list in the special session.He said he's confident the recommendations will help West Virginia's second round Race to the Top application."Who should I ask, and the people of West Virginia depend on, other than the Department of Education?" he said. "I think that they should know what will give us the opportunity."The state must submit its application for the second round of federal funding by June 1.But getting any bills pushed through the Legislature during the upcoming special session - especially the teacher-heavy House Education Committee - may prove difficult for Manchin.House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, said she has "a lot of concerns about closely tying teacher performance to student success on standardized tests."To me, that's the exact problem that has caused our system to become a 'teach-to-the-test' system in many cases," she said.Poling, a retired high school math teacher, said she has no problem using a test-based monitoring system to help teachers pinpoint individual students' needs. But measuring a teacher's performance based on those tests wouldn't be fair.She said students come from different backgrounds, which affect how they perform in school. Statistically, low-socioeconomic students don't perform as well as students from families with larger incomes.Poling said teachers with low-income students might be doing a better job than those with more affluent pupils but standardized test scores wouldn't reflect that.House Education Committee member Josh Stowers, D-Lincoln, who is also Horace Mann Middle's assistant principal, said he doesn't support a new teacher monitoring system."We evaluate our teachers informally daily," he said. "That would just tie up entirely too much time for an assistant principal."Stowers said in a formal evaluation, principals are required to hold a pre-observation conference with teachers, then three 30-minute classroom observations before finishing with a post-observation conference. He said administrators then sit down and write an evaluation. "All of those things take time and when you're looking at doing those things, you're looking at a solid three to four hours per teacher," he said, adding some high schools have 90 staff members.Stowers said if the state does adopt a monitoring system, it should be based on a "growth model" concept. That way, tests would measure an individual student's performance instead of comparing last year's seventh-grade class against this year's seventh-grade class."If implemented in the correct way, it would be a more accurate way to determine how good a teacher is doing," he said.Poling said growth models "would be fair if such an instrument could be designed," but she doesn't know of any yet developed."I have not seen a well-designed program to fairly assess teachers based on any standardized test, even a growth model," she said.Manchin is expected to convene the special legislative session sometime next month.Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org.