Before the next legislative session rolls around – and trust us, we’re in no hurry – we think leaders in the House of Delegates and the Senate, along with the governor, when he is not coaching high school girls basketball, ought to outline what their priorities are, focus on a few transformative matters on what can best move the state forward, and then make sure the rank and file understand that no distracting pieces of pet legislation will be allowed to run the train off the rails into a bog of irrelevancy.
This year? According to a search on the West Virginia Legislature’s own site, there remain 171 bills regarding education still pending – a week before the end of the 60-day session. And not to put too fine a point on it, that’s just in education.
Of course, most of that paper will be left to gather dust because, in part, most proposed legislation is pure, unadulterated nonsense. That has to stop. It is time consuming, not without cost and creates a spider web of proposals next to impossible for the general public to traverse.
Leaders of both chambers have the power to bring order and control to the process without twisting the admirable intent of a citizens’ governing body. But the legislative leaders in both chambers need to get their collective acts together – if they can summon the temerity.
By way of example, let us say again – as we have been pounding the table into splinters all along – education remains the single most important issue for our legislators to address.
But much of what they have been doing this session is to spell out – in specific detail – what ought to be taught in school classrooms.
They have been, in fact, obsessive in attempting to dictate a pretty bland curriculum after spending most of last year’s session promoting innovation via charter schools.
How’s that working out?
Well, we do not believe that is their job. We have a bipartisan State Board of Education, with voting members appointed by the governor, whose collective duty is to supervise the state’s elementary and secondary schools.
The board is taxed with determining educational policy and to establish rules that carry into effect – yes – state laws.
But when legislators get into the trifles of what courses should or should not be required for graduation, then we have a case of politics playing its hand in classrooms across the state.
Micromanaging rarely ends well.
For instance, this year alone there has been a rush from legislators to demand that our high school curriculums need to be adjusted to accommodate certain courses of study.
Senate Bill 38 would require schools to provide an elective course on Hebrew Scriptures or Bible.
Senate Bill 45 would mandate a place for agricultural science education in the curriculum and Senate Bill 107 would require “satisfactory completion” of a class in personal finance in order to graduate high school. The argument, advanced by some in the Legislature, is that kids need to learn how to balance a checkbook – as if such accounting practices are necessary in the current digital age.
We are not arguing against the value of religious studies, farming and bookkeeping. But those seem to be issues that can be best addressed at the local school board level.
Likewise, one proposal calls for cursive writing to be extended through 5th grade, as one legislator put it, so that students will be able to read the Declaration of Independence.
We think kids can and will Google that homework assignment instead of traveling to the National Archives in D.C. to decipher the original founding document.
Meanwhile, more that a third of all our high school graduates statewide – and higher percentages down here in the coalfield – are directed into remedial classes once they step foot on colleges campuses because they are not ready to tackle the rigors of a college curriculum.
Our advice? Leave the horizontal and vertical articulation of a curriculum to the experts. Certainly, our governor and legislative bodies should have a say in the big picture of what our educational system, K-12, should be doing. And, it can be argued, they should demand more than what we are getting.
But, please, spare us your detailed interference in curriculum development and leave that to others who know better.
— The Register-Herald