Change education now

West Virginia’s education system is not sufficiently educating our children, a fact that is detrimental to our children, families, employers and communities. We must work together to turn this around with significant change, if not a complete overhaul of the system.

The topic of education reform is personal for so many and it is complicated. If education reform were simple, there would already be a solution. West Virginia United Health System is one our state’s largest employers, and we provide almost 12,000 positions that most people would agree offer excellent pay and benefits. We operate in many parts of West Virginia, so I speak with great concern when I say we are at a critical juncture for the future.

We want children to graduate from high school with the skills necessary to meet the changing needs of our economy, and West Virginia United Health System supports the Governor’s bold education efforts because we need the vitally important changes that will benefit our students, our teachers, our families, our businesses, and our entire state.

The facts that make the case for massive changes are indisputable.

Education Week’s Quality Counts survey gave West Virginia an F for student achievement and ranked our state 49th nationally. This is despite the fact that our expenditures are among the top 10 nationally.

StudentsFirst’s state policy report card evaluated our education laws and policies as they relate to elevating teaching, empowering parents, and spending and governing wisely. Again, West Virginia failed.

Our high school graduation rate is just 78 percent, and far too many of those who do graduate require remedial classes as they pursue the post-secondary training necessary for the jobs being created in our state.

The statistics paint a grim picture in many ways, but we are not without hope.

We were pleased that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin spent fully half of his State of the State address promoting improvements to education, and the West Virginia Board of Education appears ready to support change. Last year’s comprehensive audit of our bureaucratic system must serve as a blueprint for action.

We call on elected officials, school board members and West Virginia Department of Education staff to create higher expectations and demand better performance not only from our students, but from our teachers, our administrators, and our entire communities.

Specifically, we need:

* Capable, committed teachers who are allowed to encourage thinking and not be concerned about just test results, and principals free to be educational leaders, not just paper-pushing disciplinarians.

* Creativity and flexibility that permit local communities to determine the best way to set a school calendar and hire the most qualified teachers.

* Students who receive individualized educational opportunities that allow them to build on their strengths rather than being beaten down by their weaknesses.

The healthcare community can speak legitimately about West Virginia’s workforce needs and the importance of having a 5-star education system to attract physicians and staff to our great state. We stand with the Governor and our legislators to recognize that the time for real change is now and we will see this effort through until we can all be proud that we have put West Virginia’s students first.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jones is the chairman of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce. He also is the President and CEO of West Virginia United Health System, which is composed of West Virginia University Hospitals in Morgantown, United Hospital Center in Clarksburg, and West Virginia University Hospitals-East, which is composed of City Hospital in Martinsburg and Jefferson Memorial Hospital in Ranson.