Today’s Students, Tomorrow’s Work Force: Addressing West Virginia’s Education System
August 28, 2012|
By Governor Earl Ray Tomblin
As a former teacher, I know a solid education is the foundation on which one builds a secure life in today’s competitive global economy. With roots in business, I also understand the value of reliable, hardworking employees and entrepreneurial-spirited people who go the extra mile because it makes all the difference. As governor of the State of West Virginia, I remain committed to seeking out new opportunities for all West Virginians and pursuing a greater future for our children.
With the development of new jobs and the revitalization of established industries, it is important that we work together to ensure our children receive the best education possible so that we can continue to prepare them for the demands of our growing economy. At the same time, it is important that we receive a significant return on our investment. That is why I moved forward with the statewide education efficiency audit and why I continue to seek input from parents, community leaders, business owners and many others. We each have a vested interest in our state’s education system and we are each responsible for making sure our children are prepared to succeed long into the future.
Last year, Public Works LLC began “The Education Efficiency Audit of West Virginia’s Primary and Secondary Education System.” The group’s initial report resulted in more than 50 findings and recommendations that have the potential to improve student education. Public Works and its partner firm, MGT of America, conducted the audit, held community events and oversaw surveys and other assessment methods to encompass the entire education system in West Virginia. Results from the eight-month-long process include state, regional and local level insights into how the system can be improved.
Consultants from around the country brought an array of experience in identifying benchmarks and best practices in education, as well as a fresh perspective that unveiled some efficiencies we previously had not considered. Together, we learned a lot.
Since the report was released, I’ve been asked “Why the review?” West Virginians are proud of our schools and I want to make sure we are rightfully proud. Our schools must produce for our children, and we, the taxpayers, must receive the highest return on our investment. Our goals are simply not being met when data shows that our state ranks near the top for education expense yet our students score below average on the majority of education assessments.
Statistics show West Virginia ranks eighth in the country in education expenditures relative to income levels. However, West Virginia students score below the national average on 21 of the 24 indicators of student performance as reported by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Perhaps the biggest test of our education system is how our graduates perform in the workplace. Our businesses compete in a global economy and their expectations of worker and leader productivity continue to rise.
We must meet that challenge by providing a work force with a solid educational foundation that is able to not only meet but exceed the demands of tomorrow’s business world. This begins by developing high-achieving schools that graduate a prepared work force—a work force that will facilitate more jobs.
The results, specifically the more than 50 findings and recommendations reported from the “Education Efficiency Audit of West Virginia’s Primary and Secondary Education System,” left nothing off the table—just as I had requested.
The report’s recommendations included reducing administrative overhead through the reorganization of major functions at the Department of Education, reassessing current facility operations, implementing efficiencies in school building capital projects through the School Building Authority and reorganizing professional development for educators. These flexibility-enabling recommendations, if adopted, may have the potential to save the state $90 million over a five-year period.
The financial savings is luring, but we cannot lose sight of our second goal: improving student performance. The report recommended that we improve the connection between the classroom instruction of today and the work force and career futures our students face. This can be done by embracing distance learning capabilities and evaluating our teachers on a national best practice model so our children can achieve to the best of their ability. During the 2012 Legislative Session, I introduced legislation to support these goals.
Perhaps one of the most resounding observations the authors of the audit shared was that West Virginia has one of the most highly regulated systems in the country. The authors report that this regulation is to the detriment of school policies and operations. This would be a fundamental shift to transition from Department of Education governance of the school system to a more individual initiative and accountability strategy. Because of this, I believe the people must decide. We are a government and education system of the people and for the people. That is why I have, from the very beginning, encouraged every West Virginian to read the reports and let me know how we can make the next step—the right step.
In June 2012, my office joined with Vision Shared and the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce to hold a series of forums across the state. At these gatherings, education, business and community leaders worked together to review the report’s findings and map out a plan of action.
There’s the old saying “It takes a village to raise a child.” Whether one’s professional interest is in education, business or the public sector, each of us are important village members. I believe we have a village full of knowledgeable, eager parents, grandparents, educators and business and community leaders from hometowns across the state who want the best for our children. I’m honored to work with them as we find ways to operate our schools better so that when our students are ready to become our employees, the transition is smooth and efficient from day one. Helping our children make their dreams a reality started with the education audit. It is now up to us to lay the groundwork for our children’s years of prosperity.