No Child Left Behind, the federal school reform law launched with much fanfare under former President George W. Bush, proved to be an enormous flop. Now that West Virginia has been formally excused from complying with NCLB, the question is whether its state-engineered replacement will be any better.
State Board of Education President Wade Linger thinks so. He maintains the state education reform campaign "will be envied by the entire country, if not the world."
Self-confidence can be a wonderful thing, providing it does not amount, in the end, to self-deception. West Virginians are all too familiar with promises to bring world-class public schools to our state. Somehow, it never seems to happen.
We know that under standard measures of education quality, such as standardized tests, graduation rates, etc., many public schools in our state are not doing very good jobs. We also know that little, if any, improvement was seen as a result of NCLB.
Now the state has joined 36 others given waivers from complying with the federal law. U.S. Department of Education officials agreed to that only after being convinced the state has a reasonable school reform plan of our own.
Earlier this year state legislators approved a package of education mandates. More emphasis will be given to ensuring children can read at an early age. Pre-school programs will be boosted. School systems theoretically will have more flexibility, with less emphasis on meeting state requirements and more on results.
One change will be that the old NCLB system of deciding whether individual schools make Adequate Yearly Progress will be scrapped. In its place, a new evaluation system called the West Virginia Accountability Index will be used. So there will be no more AYP but much more WVAI.
Let's hope that amounts to more than stirring the alphabet soup the bureaucracy is so fond of dishing out.
Public school reform is not a snap-of-the-fingers event that occurs suddenly, leaving everything much better than before. It is a process - and it is likely to take several years to come to full fruition.
But for too long, Mountain State residents have been told our schools were doing well, when they were not. Not at all. Unless real, measurable progress is made quickly - never mind whether we're the envy of the world - the current reform strategy will need to be abandoned, and something new tried. We've heard promises too many times in the past. Now, we need results.