West Virginia's birth rate for females between the ages of 15 and 19 increased by 17 percent between 2007 and 2009. Nationally, the teen birth rate fell 8 percent. A child's chances of growing up in poverty are nine times greater if the child is born to an unmarried teen without a high school diploma.
The implications of not addressing family and community challenges are far reaching, making it virtually impossible for students to reach critical academic benchmarks early in their school careers. One such benchmark is third-grade reading proficiency. Many states have recently enacted policies that retain students in third grade if they do not meet or exceed the reading benchmark. However, the board's Call to Action does not include any recognition of the third-grade reading benchmark or current achievement gaps in third grade WESTEST2 reading/language arts scores that are associated with ethnicity, income, or gender.
The Education Alliance believes the community and family challenges we've noted must be systematically addressed. However, this will happen only if the board assigns a high priority to working on these issues collaboratively and ceaselessly. As uncomfortable as these realities are, the board's Call to Action must acknowledge and reflect what we know to be true about West Virginia's student population even if the Efficiency Audit did not. Compelling evidence shows family and community impediments to academic success can be minimized if tackled early and comprehensively.
At-risk students exist in every county and need at least 180 days of high quality instruction. Expanded learning opportunities -- after school and/or summer programs -- can help minimize academic disparities and help break the cycles of poverty and teen parenthood.
The board has an opportunity to model for local school boards and the public how recommendations translate into measurable benefits for students, not just fiscal efficiency. Incorporating information about the daily family and community-related challenges facing many West Virginia children informs public dialogue about education and creates an environment for meaningful collaboration among students, educators, community and business leaders, policymakers, and citizens. An example of how powerful these collaborations can be is the work currently underway at local and state levels to improve student attendance rates and reduce dropout rates.
Children depend on thoughtful, informed adults to create pathways to success. If the adults are successful, current student achievement patterns will be a memory instead of our current and tragic reality.
Schoen is director of strategic relationships/corporate communications for The Education Alliance.