Nippon Thermostat wants to hire 30 more well-paid workers at its Putnam County plant -- but it laments that nine-tenths of local job applicants can't solve simple math questions on screening exams.
The annual Kids Count report says three-fourths of West Virginia students fail to reach national proficiency standards in math and reading. The Mountain State sank to 47th among the 50 states, with learning levels equaling those in Bulgaria.
Depressingly, state officials warned that every West Virginia school could be labeled a "failing school" by 2014 under rules of the federal No Child Left Behind program.
Taylor County Circuit Judge Alan Moats told legislators last week that one-fourth of Mountain State students quit high school, and truancy is rampant. "Dropouts can't get jobs. So when they quit school, they're going to get in trouble," he testified.
The judge is right. What he and others discovered when they set out to deal with truancy more effectively in their courtrooms, is that missing school does not begin in the upper grades when students are old enough to come and go on their own. Missing school starts much earlier, all the way back in kindergarten. Chronic school absence is a symptom, just like a cough or fever. It happens in families who are coping with too many challenges -- unemployment, illness, domestic violence, untreated mental health problems or addiction, for example. When families get help to solve these problems, children's school attendance improves. When children attend regularly, grades, test scores and behavior improve.
Worldwide, mountain regions tend to lag behind urban zones in education. West Virginia has America's lowest rate of college graduates. But in this new high-tech Information Age, when success hinges increasingly on knowledge, surely West Virginia can find ways to improve its pathetic learning levels.
The first step, for elected leaders who want to make a difference in education: help families remove the obstacles that interfere with children going to school and seizing the opportunities provided to them.