Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Proposed Education Reform in WV: Is SB359 good legislation?

Finally, after months of debate and discussion pertaining to the educational audit conducted in 2012, lawmakers in West Virginia have legislation in the works to change education in the Mountain State.  Currently, SB359 is making its way through the state Senate.  The bill already seems to have a divisive effect.  Members of the state legislature believe the reforms in SB359 will have a meaningful impact upon the education of students, while the state's labor representatives have denounced the bill.  So, is the bill a legitimate contender for making real change in the state?

First, lawmakers made a mistake in attempting to create sweeping legislation in on fell swoop.  The education reform bill clocks in at 179 pages, covering all manner of topics.  The legislature might have more success breaking these topics into multiple bills that deal with specific issues within the field of education.  One piece of legislation encompassing an entire gamut of changes would place legislators in the unenviable position of having to vote on a bill that may contain many problematic suggestions and only a few real solutions.  Additionally, some lawmakers may feel compelled to vote down a potentially good piece of legislation because it contains a few objectionable portions.  Either way, a piecemeal approach would be more suitable.

The reform bill also suggests making a change in the hiring practices of schools, requiring, "... vacancies in professional positions of employment [be filled] on the basis of the applicant with the highest qualifications."  In hiring a professional employee, consideration would be given to:  appropriate certification, amount of relevant experience to the position, levels of education, academic achievement, other relevant specialized training, former performance evaluations, and seniority.

I believe this is a necessary change if West Virginia wants to retain quality instructors in its classrooms.  Several state institutions of higher learning produce teachers, but many of them leave because finding a job here is difficult because seniority is the sole determinant.  Examining the qualities set forth in this bill would provide for hiring the best possible applicant for a job.

Leadership from the American Federal of Teachers (AFT) and the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA)  vehemently objected to this portion of the bill, with AFT president Judy Hale commenting, "It takes us back to the days of nepotism and cronyism, ... They'll have the ability to hire their nephew or anyone else."

Hale's comments border on the ridiculous.  Does a possibility exist an individual would be hired because of nepotism?  Yes.  However, what Hale doesn't divulge is that teachers in the state are given jobs often because they have simply been around longer than anyone else.  Schools are forced to hire a teacher who is inadequate for the job.  Also, labor representatives have a conspiracy theory mindset that would have West Virginians believe principals of schools would hand out jobs to anyone they like with no oversight or supervision when applicants in the state would still have the ability to file a grievance.

SB359 also augments the current status of critical teaching positions that currently go unfilled.  The bill would permit programs such as Teach for America to supply educators to take on jobs where no qualified teacher exists.  Those who wish to teach in the state would have to hold a bachelor's degree, pass all the certification tests any other teacher in the state must pass, be of good moral character, pass a background check, and receive specialized training from Teach for America.  Additionally, schools would develop a professional support team to work with these teachers to provide assistance and guidance to these teachers filling critical roles and providing a recommendation at the end of the school year to determine if that teacher would be permitted to return.  Other temporary forms of licensing would be available with those who have the education and skills necessary to provide instruction to students.

Like the issue of hiring practices, I consider this to be a much needed change.  Many of West Virginia's rural and border counties have unfilled positions where it would only make sense to find applicants with specializations to work in those subject areas.  This means of providing an education to students will be far more productive than our current system, which allows anyone with an education degree to act as a long-term substitute.  How can anyone attempt to explain to students and parents why someone with a degree in math education would be teaching a course in literature?  Would you want your child learning chemistry from someone with a degree in social studies education?

Perhaps looking for ammunition in a gun otherwise loaded with blanks, WVEA president Dale Lee intimated his belief to the Charleston Gazette that the bill may diminish a teacher's planning period of teachers to '30 minutes or less'.  I'm unsure how Lee would derive such a prediction, considering SB359 mandates

"Every teacher who is regularly employed ... shall be provided at least one planning period within each school instructional day to be used to complete necessary preparations for the instruction of pupils.  Such planning period shall be the length of the shortest class taught by the classroom teacher and may not be less than thirty minutes."

Other productive pieces of SB359 include:

  • Providing generous pay incentives to teachers who receive their National Board Certification.
  • Improved elements that would provide meaningful professional development to assist teachers in a continued education.
  • Scholarship opportunities to those local students who major in education and stay in West Virginia to teach.
  • Loan assistance to West Virginia native teachers who agree to stay in state.
  • More flexibility in allowing individual counties create a school calendar that will permit a full 180 day schedule to provide the maximum amount of education.
If anything, the bill doesn't do enough to help education.  Several other key issues need addressed, however I believe SB359 is a positive step in the right direction.  Please support this bill.

I hope the legislature will consider addressing other significant issues facing our educational process:  lowering the student to teacher ratio, serious investment into vocational and technical training, the slow phasing out of unnecessary administrative positions at the state board of education, and a more flexible curriculum to provide a myriad of course offerings to secondary students.


  1. Have you even read this bill? It sounds to me like you 1. Read the parts that you saw fit. 2. Have never taught in a classroom a day of your life. SB359 is degrading and demoralizing to teachers. It has MANY looking for alternative careers. I can honestly say that I am good at what I do. I followed my childhood dream of becoming an elementary teacher, and have never looked back...until now. I'm wondering how I can still work with children, but not have all of the degrading things put upon me by the WV government. How dare you say these are much needed changes! Are changes needed? Absolutely! This is NOT the right way to go about it. Not only does this bill degrade the teaching profession and the teachers themselves, it also DOES NOT deal with student achievement at all, other than placing blame on the teachers and adding yet another standardized test. When do they propose we teach? I already feel like I test these poor kids to death, and they are only second graders! Third graders have it worse in my county. They have to take DIBELS tests and progress monitoring, WESTEST and the WV Writing Assessment. Seriously? Let's add one more to the three already in practice (which doesn't include all of the online assessments we are required to give)!

    Right now, seniority IS NOT the primary factor in hiring. It is ONE part of SEVEN criteria that are on a points-based system. Yes it helps, but it is not the deciding factor. You also don't address how this bill states that they can pull a teacher out of his/her classroom at any point in the year, only to move them to another classroom in the building where they are needed. (It initially said any school in the county, but was later revised to within the school building.) Then it later states that it is not good for children to have multiple teachers per year, so teachers cannot change jobs after the 12th day of school. If it's not good for students (which it ISN'T) then why put the option in there for them to move us whenever they feel like it? Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that if this happens...the teacher has NO LEGAL recourse and NO right to file a grievance.

    I could go on and on, but I think I've proven my point. You need to be a little more educated about that which you speak. This bill is a degrading bomb that is being dropped on the educational staff of our state and will run off many excellent teachers!

  2. I read the bill. I am a teacher and have been teaching for nine years. I also know what it's like to not even be interviewed for a job because some teacher not as good as me receives a job based on seniority and nothing else. I know that things need to change and even though I am a union member, I find they're doing more to obstruct than to help solve any problems.

    Excellent young teachers are being run off every May and December when they take their education degrees and go elsewhere to teach because they cannot compete for jobs. You have not proven your point, you have done nothing but make false presumptions.