The old system was built when there was a shortage of educated people and many positions in schools to be filled. Today, education is sought by many, and there would be no excess of teaching positions if teachers were adequately paid. Go for quality in teaching, not quantity. Don't subsidize alternative schools.
The other big problem is discipline. Homogenizing the classes according to wealth and status is a fine American tradition. It gives all a chance to rise to their level. But homogenizing classes so only the worst misbehavior is sent to special school is not a good idea. If a student can't behave in a class, constantly seeking attention or rebelling, that student simply should not be allowed to destroy the education of others.
Such individuals should be taught in separate classes. The separation should not be based on socioeconomic status, but entirely on behavior, with rich problem children along with poor problem children. It should be recognized you cannot do as much for such children. The emphasis should be on giving them salable skills and self-discipline. This is a problem of the home.
Many homes do not develop appreciation for long-term goals such as extended learning. In such homes the life experience of the parents may be so broken only short-term goals are appealing. In others, parents are so preoccupied they fail to convey value for settled, long-term labor to meet goals, or the value of long-term aspirations. The offspring of such homes should not be determining the course of classes on a day-to-day basis. Teachers are human. They cannot do a good job with constant disruption.
One American attitude needs correction. We tend to see academic achievement as a matter of aptitude. To be a good student means you are "smart," intelligent. That makes it easy to give up, "because nature just didn't give me what it takes." The Chinese I met in graduate school saw academic achievement as a matter of work, a task to be done. Something anyone could do if they were willing to work hard enough.
Frankly, you meet quite a few educated people who are not well informed outside their specialty and not very creative in their thinking. And you meet many people who are not educated who are well informed and able to understand new ideas. Education actually is a matter of being in sufficiently settled circumstances and having the values needed to pursue long-term goals and the willingness to work, not some God-given quality the individual has no control over. Education is a job, a long, sometimes difficult job. One the individual has to do largely by himself or herself, with outside help.
A final, and doubtlessly unwelcome observation is the complete failure of physical education. Vast sums and much energy is spent on inter-school competition with the neglect of most students. Inter-school sports train a few to go on and enter similar inter-collegiate sports. Vanishingly few can make a livelihood from it.
Most students slump behind desks nine months for years with a single year of phys ed that hardly requires deep breathing. This at a time of life when their athletic prowess is greatest and the need for physical conditioning is most intense -- male and female. Life habits are established in middle and high school. They should include pleasure with physical activity and maintaining a strong useful body. More physical activity would help discipline, too.
The prospect for education in West Virginia and elsewhere is bleak. What is going on is best described by the currently popular phrase "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as it goes down." A lot of people are working hard at it, true, but the constraints they work in are overwhelming, fiscal and philosophical. There is great reluctance to put out the money needed. Established interests, like Education experts; false requirements for "democratic" classrooms; commercial interests that supply inputs, such as textbooks; and political powers resulting from the huge expenditures involved in education tend to impede any change. A major paradigm change is needed.
Bond, of Jane Lew, is a retired inorganic chemist who taught high school and college.