For the second year in a row "Quality Counts" (an annual evaluation of our nation's public schools done by the magazine "Education Week") has ranked West Virginia in the top 10 of the 50 states.
West Virginia's overall grade was a "B-minus." The national average is a "C." This is very good news. However, embedded in this overall good news is some not so good news.
On some specifics we rate extremely well, but on others we're lagging.
The report covers four basic areas on an ongoing basis. They are Chance for Success, K-12 Achievement, Transitions and Alignment and School Finance. West Virginia scores quite well in the last two categories but poorly in the first two.
Transitions and Alignment is an area in which our state has made great strides in recent years. This category measures the degree to which a state's K-12 education prepares students for college and for the workforce, as well as how effectively pre-K education aligns with K-12.
West Virginia is one of five states given an "A" in this category. The others are Maryland, Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas.
School Finance is the other area in which our state ranks well. Only three other states (Vermont, New York and Maine, in that order) spend more of their total taxable resources on education.
However, I disagree with the validity of one of Quality Counts' sub-categories under School Finance, and it's the sub-category in which West Virginia's star shines brightest (according to the survey). We have far and away the least "amount of disparity in spending across districts." We have such a low disparity in spending from district to district because we do not account for disparities in cost of living from district to district. Thus what Quality Counts calls "equitable" I call "inequitable."
We score very low in both K-12 Achievement and Chance for Success. I'm convinced we're on our way to fixing the first problem quite soon, but it will be a long time before the second problem is corrected.
Prior to September 2008, West Virginia's statewide curriculum was much weaker than the national average. That month is when much more rigorous content was inserted into our K-12 curriculum as a result of West Virginia's participation in a program called Global 21. West Virginia's test scores on the 2009 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) test were not very high, but that test was given less than four months after our stronger curriculum took effect.
Quality Counts puts great stock in the NAEP test for its rankings in the K-12 Achievement category and the 2009 test was the one used for the 2010 rankings.
I believe that subsequent NAEP tests will show great improvement by West Virginia students as a result of the strengthened curriculum.
Chance for Success is a category heavily influenced by factors outside school. These include such things as family income and parental level of education. Since West Virginia has a higher percentage of residents than any other state that have never been to college progress in this category will be slow.
That's why I have spent more time during my 20 years in the legislature trying to get our state to value a college education than on any other issue. Only when we have a much higher percentage of our population with some college achievement will we begin to develop a culture of learning. We need a culture of learning to develop a knowledge-based economy. And we need that knowledge-based economy to get to the national average on all the economic statistics of which we're now near the bottom.