Focus on education reform must continue

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and West Virginia legislators have accomplished something very worthwhile in passage of a major education reform bill. But it is only a start, one that easily could go the way of so many school improvement campaigns of the past.

Though much was written and said of controversy surrounding the governor’s proposal, there was very little of it in the end. In separate votes on the bill in the state Senate and House of Delegates, just two lawmakers said “no” to the measure.

What controversy there was, including vigorous protests by the state’s two teachers’ unions, focused on issues such as how school calendars are set and hiring and promotion practices. It appears there was little disagreement over what probably are much more important provisions, such as new emphasis on reading, middle school students, early childhood education and vocational/career training.

What needs to be different about this round of school reform is simple: Just as teachers watch the performance of their students every day, Tomblin and legislators must monitor what happens during the coming year. Students are expected to make progress every year, so why should schools not be held to the same standard?

Even before the bill was sent to Tomblin for his signature, there were indications some recommendations of an “audit” of state schools had not been addressed fully. One is the bloated bureaucracy, centered in the state Department of Education, that oversees public schools. Between now and their regular session next year, lawmakers should be asking whether more can be done to shift control – and responsibility – to county school systems.

School reform was the top priority of both the governor and legislators this year. It should be again a year from now. Passage of Tomblin’s bill is not success in improving public education. It is merely a good start that will need monitoring and refinement if it is to succeed.