Clearly, West Virginia Board of Education members have made serious mistakes on several issues during the past few years. One of them was taking the state down the Common Core curriculum path and adopting a standardized test geared to it.
Critics of action by state legislators to exert control of some aspects of public school policy say that is a potentially dangerous overreaction, however. They ask how lawmakers, most with little experience in education, can be expected to do better than the board and professionals in the state Department of Education.
To some extent, the critics have a point - and part of it involves the composition of the state Board of Education.
This is not the same board guilty of errors during the past few years. A majority of its members have taken office just this year, after being appointed by Gov. Jim Justice. Many board members have direct experience in public schools at the local level. That means we can expect different decisions on policy.
In addition, a new state superintendent of schools, Steve Paine, will be at the helm. Paine previously served as superintendent several years ago.
Legislators are being very careful in how they change oversight of schools. Wording in a bill approved Friday by the state Senate makes that clear.
SB 18 orders that a standardized test keyed to the Common Core curriculum be replaced with other examinations that would be subject to the Legislature's approval. The measure passed narrowly, by a vote of 18-16. Some "no" votes came from lawmakers concerned about taking too much policy authority away from the professionals.
But exercised prudently, changes such as SB 18 can be viewed not so much as the Legislature taking authority from the state board as lawmakers operating as a safeguard. Remember, their role is not to originate policy on standardized testing, but merely to examine and validate action by the state board.
Lawmakers such as those who voted against SB 18 are right to worry about too much centralized control vested in the Legislature. Given errors by state board and Department of Education officials during recent years, more oversight is needed, however.