Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette on cheating in schools:
West Virginia public school students rank so low in standardized test scores — trailing most states in science, equaling Bulgaria in math — that the 2013 Legislature overcame howls from teacher unions and passed a major education reform demanded by Gov. Tomblin. Nobody knows whether the law changes will boost learning levels.
But the demand for better test results begets a different problem: cheating by some teachers and administrators to inflate scores in their schools and enhance their own careers.
Lincoln County teacher Kelli Burns told the Lincoln Journal she was fired after, among other things, she and her mother reported "continued, widespread and pervasive cheating on standardized tests." She said the county school board's only response was "sweeping the whole thing under the carpet."
Meanwhile, national attention has been grabbed by a large cheating scandal in Atlanta. Indictments accuse 35 educators of holding after-school "parties" in which incorrect student test answers were erased and replaced with correct ones. The cheating allegedly infested all levels of Atlanta schools. Those charged include former Superintendent Beverly Hall, who was America's 2009 National Superintendent of the Year.
One teacher, Jackie Parks, wore a hidden microphone to help prosecutors break the system. She said grade-changing was so routine that many teachers considered it a job obligation. ...
The National Center for Fair and Open Testing points out that cheating incidents have been confirmed in 37 states and the District of Columbia during the past four years. In Philadelphia, two principals surrendered their credentials last month after a probe into suspected cheating on state tests.
Last year, investigative reporters of USA Today said they found evidence of fraudulent test scores in six states and Washington, D.C.
What a mess. What a dilemma. West Virginia must strive for higher test scores — but they must not be attained dishonestly.
The Legislature and the state Board of Education should create an internal investigative system through which whistleblowers can report suspicions of cheating. For starters, it could examine the Lincoln County report.
The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, W. Va., on taxes:
After approval of an extended and expanded home rule program for West Virginia cities, the Legislature this month gave the state's Tax Department a little more authority. The question now is whether the department was given too much leeway, to the potential detriment of the program.
The home rule program, which allows participating cities more freedom to try new approaches to municipal problems, was set to expire July 1. Lawmakers this month passed a bill to extend the program for six years and allow up to 16 more cities to participate. Currently, Huntington and three other cities take part.
Cities still face many restrictions regarding what they can do, but they will have the authority to impose a 1 percent sales tax on purchases of goods and services at businesses within their borders. To do so, they must lower or eliminate their business and occupation taxes also.
Huntington tried this approach under the initial pilot program, and it has been implemented with little grumbling and allowed lower taxes on businesses. ...
For cities, that means a reduction in the amount of revenue they will collect. For example, during the first three months of this year, Huntington's sales tax brought in $1,759,790, and the Tax Department kept $17,776. If the Tax Department had kept a full 5 percent, Huntington would have netted about $70,000 less in revenue.
Tax Department officials said the department does not intend to profit from the processing fee, but that the approximate 1 percent charged now isn't covering the department's costs in setting up the collection system for the local tax.
Jeff Oakes, the state's acting deputy tax commissioner, said the tax office hasn't determined yet if it needs to raise the rate to 5 percent. "That work is ongoing. It may be 2 percent, it may be 3, it may be 5," he said.
That ambiguity is what is troubling. Lawmakers should have insisted on a detailed cost analysis before authorizing a fee of up to 5 percent.
The bill does require the Tax Department to seek legislative approval for the fee it charges, but Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, said he worries the agency would issue an emergency rule and increase the fee until legislators could meet again to vote.
We hope lawmakers and legislative auditors closely scrutinize the department's specific fee request, demand justifications on all costs and ensure that home rule cities aren't paying more than they should. Overcharging cities would undercut what the home-rule program intends to accomplish.
The Register-Herald, Beckley, W. Va., on Project 24:
Not 50th, not 49th. First for a welcome change.
Last week Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and former Gov. Bob Wise announced that the West Virginia Board of Education and the state will be partnering with the Alliance for Excellent Education to begin a statewide review of classroom technology use and digital learning capabilities.
Project 24, which stands for the next 24 months, is a program developed by the Alliance which is now guided by Wise. The project helps school systems plan for effective use of technology while promoting opportunities for students to reach career and college readiness, one of Tomblin's key points in education reform.
A number of local school systems across the country participate in Project 24, but West Virginia will in fact be the first state to commit and benefit from it.
And the assessment of current capabilities, along with a plan of action and details on how to implement personalized learning for our state's students, won't cost the state a penny.
Some counties, like Raleigh, have been aggressively moving toward making classrooms more digital. With the assistance of this Alliance for Excellent Education program the movement should definitely gain momentum statewide.
At no other point has technology been developed and is changing as rapidly as it is right now.
Doing our level best to keep our classrooms as up to date and current with these changes gives our future generations the real tools they will need to succeed and prosper.
It's encouraging to see progress in education being pushed by Tomblin and other state leaders.