Do Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and members of the Legislature really want to reform education, or do they just want to make a lot of noise?
If they want to do more than pick fights with teachers and give the illusion of doing something, they will tackle the biggest problem kids face -- poverty.
Sounds impossible, doesn't it? After all these years, the poor are still with us.
But there are proven solutions that make a real difference in people's lives. There certainly are tax strategies, job programs and handouts that help prevent poverty or help families to better support themselves. I'm not even talking about those today.
I'm talking about activities that mitigate the effects of poverty on children living in it right now, today:
• Home visitor programs. Repeatedly, efforts that send a knowledgeable, helpful professional to the homes of babies and small children have been shown to make a difference in the health and education of young people.
Whether the program employed nurses, trained parents, preschool specialists or social workers, decades of research shows the same thing. Parents learn from helpful visitors and apply the lessons to their children -- increasing time spent using books and language, improving disciplinary techniques and catching problems early. The effort leads to better school attendance, better school performance and accomplishments later. Whether the programs are called Parents as Teachers, Birth to Three, Truancy Diversion or something else, they all share one thing -- they help parents to be the sort of good parents they aspire to be.
• Good preschool. West Virginia has made progress here, in a way. The state vastly expanded access to preschool for 4-year-olds. That is a great start, but research shows that the real benefit comes from high-quality full-day programs, says Pat Kusimo, executive director of the Education Alliance. Many of West Virginia's programs are half-day. Also, access to preschool for 3-year-olds needs work. This is especially important for low-income and poor kids. Parents who are working need good, reliable child care, and children need that care to be stimulating and appropriate for their developmental stage. It pays off in many ways, including better school performance later.