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More ideas for education basics review

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Charles McElwee Charles McElwee

Charles McElwee is a Charleston attorney with the firm Robinson & McElwee PLLC. The views expressed are his own. 

I previously suggested a much-needed comprehensive review of the fundamental, but long-neglected, basics of the state's public school system: its student/ teacher/management elements.

The Education-Basics Review that I propose includes these components:

First, as a prerequisite to the review, the West Virginia Board of Education should conduct a nationwide search for an exemplary state superintendent of schools to guide the board in the review.

The newly selected superintendent should be the principal advisor to the board, the executor of its policies and the chief executive of the Department of Education.

The superintendent, as "the chief school officer of the State," should possess a breadth of knowledge of innovative thinking in public education and of how high-performing school systems have dramatically changed education and improved student outcomes.


  • A board that is willing to expand its role as the determiner "of the educational policies of the public schools of the State."
  • The development of an informed and involved citizenry throughout the state, who will become an aggressive citizen constituency for a nationally recognized quality public-school system.
  • Three student elements that are the bedrock principles upon, and in accordance with, which the state's K-12 education system should be redesigned and built merit initial, focused analysis:  How students best learn, what students should learn beyond subject matter content, and the enhancement of opportunity of disadvantaged kids to learn.


The state's historic and current student-learning model is a conventional and ancient one with these rigid characteristics, among others, every one of which should be reevaluated: 


  • The grouping of kids by birth date and advancing them together grade by grade; 
  • One-pace-fits-all learning whereby the time allotted to learn something is fixed while the comprehension of the concept is variable (conversely, what should be fixed is a high level of comprehension, and what should be variable is the amount of time students have to understand a concept);
  • A limited instructional day and year marked by a lengthy summer vacation when much of what was learned is unlearned; 
  • One classroom with one lonely, lecturing  teacher whose comparative effectiveness among thousands across the state may widely differ; and 
  • The chopping of human thought into chunks called "subjects" or "content."


(See a discussion of these characteristics of our learning model by Salman Khan in his recent book "The One World School House").

Once it is determined (and not before) how students best learn, what they should learn, and how the opportunity for disadvantaged kids to learn can be enhanced, an in-depth review of the teacher elements of the public school system should proceed.

The teacher elements should include, among others, the following initial focuses:


  • The role of the teacher in the classroom based on how students best learn, what they should learn, and an enhanced opportunity for disadvantaged kids to learn.
  • The qualities of an effective teacher based on his/her role in the classroom. 
  • The predictability of teacher effectiveness before admission to teacher education programs and before employment as a teacher.
  • The quality of the pool of high-school graduates planning to major in education. 
  • Standards for entry into teacher education programs.
  • Content and quality of teacher education. 
  • Colleges and universities in West Virginia approved to grant teaching degrees—their numbers, redundancies, faculties, students, education-degree granting programs, etc.


The management/administrative elements of the public-school system are largely the product of legislative enactments codified in Chapters 18 and 18A of the West Virginia Code. 

They constitute, in my frank opinion, a morass, a hodgepodge, a jumble, a conglomeration of creations by the Legislature over the years under its claimed, but dubious, constitutional authority to provide for a system of free schools.

Accordingly, a review of the management/administrative elements of the state's public schools system should include every enactment of the Legislature appearing in Chapters 18 and 18A of the Code to determine which of them should be retained, which amended, and which repealed:


  • How the state public school system should be managed and administered at the state, regional, county and school levels.
  • How the Department of Education should be organized and staffed after it is determined what directives it is expected to execute.


In the meantime, I propose the following: That three public forums on public education be sponsored and planned with the governor and the West Virginia Board of Education as principal sponsors with private entities as cosponsors.

The first forum would have as its topic "Educating a Workforce to Compete in a Global Economy." The second:  "An Education Reform Agenda for West Virginia." The third: "Public Education in the Classroom Reimagined."

The presenters of these forum topics should have nationwide reputations, such as Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times columnist and co-author of "That Used To Be Us"  in the first topic; Mark Tucker, editor, "Surpassing Shanghai, An Agenda for American Education Built on the World's Leading System" in the second; and Salman Khan, founder of The Khan Academy and the author of "The One World Schoolhouse" in the third.

Learn from the experience in Ontario, which focused on how to get better results from the teacher work force already in place by seeking the cooperation of the teachers unions, which have often been demonized, and with the teachers, who have reason to be  demoralized, by inviting them, along with selected current or recent public school students, to join in thinking through a reform program that would improve student performance.

Form a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization to solicit contributions that will focus on raising funds for public forums, conferences, organizing citizens, and other programs described herein, all relating to improving the quality of public education in West Virginia. 

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