Sometimes things get so bad on the inside, someone from the outside has to come along with a fresh look at how to fix things.
Education in West Virginia became one of those things, and in the past year, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ordered an efficiency audit to improve student education.
He announced the results earlier this year, and for nearly 12 months the findings have been mulled over, mumbled about, embraced and chided.
The audit, as well as the overall health of West Virginia's schools, came to the forefront in political circles, however, in mid-November after the State Board of Education fired State Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple. The board did not give a reason for Marple's termination, but members later said some people at the state Department of Education may not have embraced the 143-page audit, performed by Public Works LLC for about $750,000, and its more than 50 recommendations.
So what exactly are the highlights — and lowlights — of the report? Well, in short, West Virginia was found to have one of the most highly regulated education systems in the country and ranks eighth in education expenditures, relative to income, but scored below the national average on 21 of the 24 indicators of student performance as reported by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
The recommendations are spread across six areas:
Public Works President Eric Schnurer said in a phone interview Nov. 28 his company performed a similar educational efficiency audit 10 years ago in New Mexico, but every state is unique.
"I think there's a widespread recognition in the state, the things we talked about, particularly the need to invest in the state's teaching force, improving teaching, empowering principals and bringing West Virginia to the cutting edge of technology," Schnurer said about the audit findings. "Hopefully they will be implemented."
The recommendations, according to Public Works, could create more than $18.1 million in savings in just the first year and $115.7 million over the course of five years.
More specifically, some of the recommendations include:
"The main thrust of this review is to make the West Virginia educational system more efficient, from top to bottom, so that tax dollars can be better spent educating our children," the audit reads.
Drilling down another layer into classroom instruction reveals even more recommendations:
The West Virginia Board of Education issued its 130-page response to the audit during a four-hour long meeting Nov. 21, and a representative presented its information to lawmakers Nov. 27.
In short, board President Wade Linger said state school board members were "not satisfied with our current levels of performance and progress.
"The Board has begun the process of establishing measurable objectives that challenge all schools to improve student learning. We are developing initiatives on the use of time, teaching, technology, operational and management efficiency, raising educational quality statewide and accreditation restructuring — the game changers that will move the system forward more quickly."