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WVEA report skewers audit proposals

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia teachers don't seem to like most proposals in an out-of-state consultant's "education efficiency audit," according to a report given to state lawmakers Tuesday.

Teachers don't want merit pay. They don't believe student performance should be given more weight in their evaluations. They don't want seniority reduced as a consideration in hiring.

And they soundly reject giving principals more authority to hire and fire teachers.

"To give a principal carte blanche to hire and fire who they want is not an improvement to the [education] system," said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, which sponsored seven "educator forums" across the state to review the education audit.

The state paid West Chester, Pa.-based Public Works LLC to conduct the education audit. State lawmakers are reviewing the audit, which was released last year. About 300 people attended the forums in November.

According to WVEA's scathing nine-page report, teachers who attended the forums also oppose an audit proposal to allow "differential pay" - higher salaries for teachers who teach subjects such as advanced math and science in high schools. Teachers said it would be better to give salary hikes to all faculty members.

"People attending the forums were concerned about creating a divisive and competitive atmosphere if merit pay or differential pay were to be instituted," Lee said at Tuesday's House-Senate interim committee meeting. 

Teachers also criticized recommendations to extend the school year and mandate 180 days of instruction, according to the report. At the forums, teachers said additional instructional days don't lead to improved student achievement. Instead, teachers believe the state should target student absenteeism.

West Virginia teachers also reject "Teach for America-type" programs that place recent college graduates - many without teaching degrees - in low-income schools. Teachers questioned whether such programs adequately prepare college graduates to work in classrooms.

Teachers also disagreed with the overall tone of the education audit. "The audit report seems to treat public education as a business," the WVEA report says. "There were several comments questioning whether the report authors have any experience in the public education field."

West Virginia teachers also argue that the audit consultants didn't interview a sufficient number of school staff members in county school systems.

The barrage of criticism prompted state Senate Education Committee Chairman Robert Plymale to ask Lee: "Is there any portion of the audit you agree with?"

Lee said teachers support proposals to give county school boards more local control. They also like audit recommendations to increase scholarships and loan forgiveness programs used to recruit new teachers, according to the report.

"It seems all the major things mentioned in the audit, all those things it said to do, you're against," said House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha.

Lee acknowledged that WVEA members oppose many audit recommendations, but he said that doesn't mean his colleagues are against changing West Virginia's education system.

During the forums, teachers were asked how they would improve student achievement. Many suggested reducing the number of standardized tests that the state requires students to take. Teachers also recommended reducing class sizes and increasing parent involvement at schools, the WVEA report said.

"If we're serious about improving education, let's not play around the edges," Lee said. "We know we need to improve in many areas, but there are many areas where we're doing an excellent job. To get the best and brightest in the classroom, it's going to cost us."

Also Tuesday, Mercer County school board President Greg Prudich told state lawmakers that the education audit puts too much emphasis on saving money and not enough on "student outcomes" and achievement. 

But Prudich agreed with the audit's finding that the state Department of Education dictates too many policies and procedures to county school boards. He said local school boards face "regulation strangulation."

"Over the past decades, counties have been progressively stripped of authority to manage their local schools by mandates from the state department and through legislation," said Prudich, who also heads the West Virginia School Board Association. "Our association contends the ultimate goal is to vest more power and authority for educational decision-making at the county level, creating precisely the environment called for in the audit."

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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