Teaching Children

It is human nature to trust those around us more than people from elsewhere. We like to believe the way we do things in our workplaces, communities and states is better than how things are handled elsewhere.

We need to get over that regarding public schools in West Virginia. Clearly, some of what we are doing is not working.

During a conference on education reform this past week in Charleston, West Virginia residents were urged to think of Florida as a model in some ways.

One of the speakers at the conference, sponsored by the Education Alliance, was Mary Laura Bragg, director of policy for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Bragg formerly worked as a school teacher in Florida.

A multi-year campaign to improve Florida schools paid off, Bragg said. More high school students are graduating, the school dropout rate has been slashed by 50 percent, and Florida students are doing better on standardized tests.

The key to what Bragg explained about the Florida experience was in one comment: “The decision was made to do away with the old and to think about education in a totally different way and to base all our education policies on the idea that all children can learn. Every policy was tied to accountability in some way, so that students were the focus of all of our reforms.”

Some of what Florida did already is part of West Virginia’s reform campaign. For example, early intervention to ensure children can read adequately by third grade is in the works here.

Learning from school reform initiatives in other states certainly will be important in West Virginia. But more critical is the idea of evaluating every policy, no matter how old, no matter how staunchly defended by special interests, from the standpoint of whether it is good for students in our schools.

If it isn’t, it needs to be changed. Otherwise, West Virginia’s students will continue to lag behind those from other areas where educators and policymakers have decided tradition and political clout are lousy substitutes for progress that benefits our children.