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Mark Sadd: Student Success Act not an attack on public education (Opinion)

Sarah Krause is leaving West Virginia for good. She grandly announced her departure in Sunday’s Gazette-Mail after describing her mounting frustration veering into exasperation.

She describes herself as a “damn good teacher,” and I believe her. She has realized that her family’s opportunities in West Virginia are limited. I believe her, because they are.

“But even more than finding my place of origin lacking,” she writes, “something darker has begun to gather on the horizon: an attack on public education.”

I don’t believe her premise.

As a taxpayer, I am a little insulted. I don’t begrudge that West Virginia pours vast amounts of money into its public schools. Our state is now ranked 22nd in per-student spending in real dollars, given recent reports. No one I know opposes such lavish spending.

What are we getting for our money? The people in charge of the system — the lawmakers, the educrats, the school boards, the administrators, the teachers — are not delivering value in return. The system is broken, and it is not the taxpayers’ fault. It is their fault.

When confronted with the poor performance of their institutions, the public school constituencies, all of them, yelp, cat-call, strike and strike back, politically and otherwise.

So, the relatively new Republican majorities in the West Virginia Legislature are trying to hold the system’s feet to the fire, against ominous threats from unions that vow only to remove them from power.

The Gazette used to call such passion “sustained outrage” and once admired politicians for reforming tendencies.

In the same edition of the Gazette-Mail, Dave Perry, the president of the West Virginia Board of Education, writes that many critics of our public schools “have chosen to cherry-pick educational outcomes to paint an unnecessarily dismal view of education in West Virginia.”

Perry then proceeds to cherry-pick facts to portray something other than a dismal view of public education in West Virginia.

In coy language, Perry glosses the abysmal statistics that 88 percent of West Virginia’s high schools “do not meet” the state’s own standards for math and that 90 percent “do not meet” or “partially meet” the state’s own standards for reading. “In fact,” he says, “four-fifths of high schools partially meet, meet or exceed the standard in” English Language Arts.”

Dig into the scores, and you be the judge.

Perry’s own Department of Education produces the Balanced Scorecard for all of its schools. For the school year ending in 2018, 87.93 percent of West Virginia high schools did not meet the math standard. A little more than 11 percent partially met the standard. Less than 1 percent satisfied the standard, while no high school exceeded the standard.

In English Language Arts, 20.68 percent of West Virginia’s high schools did not meet the standard, while nearly 70 percent partially met the standard. Nearly 9.5 percent met the standard, while no high school exceeded the standard.

Are those scores cherries or lemons?

Perry, who also happens to be a member of the state’s largest teachers union, does grant that “there is work to be done” to improve public education, but he avers that “West Virginia has much to celebrate.”

(“But, ladies and gentlemen,” the captain of the Titanic exclaimed to fleeing passengers, “Wasn’t dining on the White Star line the finest you have experienced in your lives?”)

“I am dumb-founded,” Perry writes, “why business leaders within our state think it is productive to attack public education in order to push a political agenda that benefits the private sector and is fueled by outside interest groups.” If the agenda is literacy and numeracy, I’m for it.

Krause, too, claims that critiques of public schools and the modest reforms now on the table constitute “an attack on public education.”

This is what constitutes an attack on public education in West Virginia. Senate Bill 1039, now under debate in extended special session would give:

  • Another 5 percent across-the-board pay rise for all teachers and personnel following a five percent increase in 2018
  • Increased pay for math and special ed teachers
  • County authority to provide more money for critical subject areas
  • A $500 bonus for teachers who don’t take more than four days of leave
  • A $250 tax credit for every teacher’s out-of-pocket classroom expenses
  • More free money to pay off teacher student loans
  • Increased insurance coverage
  • More money for one of the best-funded teachers’ retirement funds in entire country

In exchange, the Republicans propose experimenting in public charter schools, loosening cross-district enrollment rules, withholding pay from striking teachers and de-regulating the classroom.

Krause walked off of her job twice to oppose charter schools. Now she leaves. The great irony is that she gets to choose to leave what she believes is a subpar state while she opposes giving poor and minority students the same choice to leave their subpar schools.

Mark Sadd is a Charleston lawyer and former Daily Mail business editor. Reach him at msadd@lewisglasser.com or @mark_sadd on Twitter.

Funerals for Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Berdine, Robert - 2 p.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation Inc., Arnoldsburg.

Bonsall, Buddy - 11 a.m., Good Shepherd Mortuary, South Charleston.

Holstein, Gary - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

Keener, John - 8 p.m., Roach Funeral Home, Gassaway.

Miller, Edward - 1 p.m., Taylor-Vandale Funeral Home, Spencer.

Wright, Virginia - 11 a.m., Nitro Church of God, Nitro.