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Plymale, Martirano talk education at Huntington Chamber session

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Plymale, Martirano talk education at Huntington Chamber session
The State Journal

Speaking to members of the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce at a breakfast meeting Sept. 23, state Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Cabell/Wayne, voiced strong criticism of what he called the “intrusive” role of the federal government in education and offered some equally barbed comments about the testing now prevalent in the state’s schools.

Plymale said he is not a believer in national education standards, as advocated by Washington. The federal role in education should be minimal, he said. Instead the U.S. Department of Education “has been over-reaching for years, dictating to the states.”

The federal edicts spelled out in the No Child Left Behind legislation have put the nation’s schools “in a race to mediocrity,” he said. Yet, despite the widespread recognition of the problems created by No Child Left Behind, “it’s never been fixed,”

Critics of both No Child Left Behind and the Common Core education standards more recently put in place say they have spawned needless testing and forced teachers to “teach to the test.”

Some testing is necessary but “right now we’re doing way too much testing,’ Plymale said. He then drew a wave of laughter from the audience when he added a comment he said he had heard voiced at a national meeting:

“Weighing a pig more often doesn’t make it fatter.”

Plymale was one of four speakers at the Huntington Chamber’s annual “A View from the Capitol” legislative breakfast. Also speaking were Dr. Amelia Courts, president and CEO of the Education Alliance; Dr. Paul Hill, chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, and Dr. Michael Martirano, West Virginia State Superintendent of Schools.

Courts reminded the audience that West Virginia was the second state in the nation to “sign on” to the Common Core standards, which now have become a lightning rod for widespread criticism.

She noted that a bill introduced in the House of Delegates at its last session called for repeal of the Common Core standards. The Senate later amended the bill to require a study of the standards by the State Superintendent of Schools. The bill died the last night of the session.

Citing the multiple state budget cuts that have been handed the state colleges and universities in recent years, Chancellor Hill voiced his hope that the 2016 Legislature will “reconnect with higher education.”

“The value of higher education to our state simply can’t be overstated,” Hill said. “It positions our citizens for success. It diversifies and strengthens our economy. And it lifts up our communities across the state. By 2020, more than 50 percent of all jobs in West Virginia will require an associate degree or higher. Currently we only have 27 percent of West Virginians who fall into that category. So we have a long way to go.”

Hill said the commission continues to work hard to increase the percentage of West Virginians who go on to college “but we’re now placing an increased emphasis on college completion.” Too many students who start college aren’t sticking with it and so don’t earn their degrees,

State Superintendent Martirano asked the audience to write down three words: “Learning to read.”

“Third grade is a major benchmark in a child’s education,” he said. “If children can’t read by grade three, they’re going to fall behind. On completion of third grade, we expect them to read to learn. See how those words are juxtaposed? Whether a child graduates from high school starts in those early years.”

Addressing the drop-out problem, Martirano described it as a “national crisis” and one that’s especially worrisome in West Virginia where too many youngsters leave school without a diploma.

“When a child drops out of school, there’s a 60 to 90 percent chance that they will end up in a detention center or prison,” he said. “As a nation we spend $35,000 a year to incarcerate a prisoner but an average of $10,000 a year to educate a child. Something’s wrong there. Think about it. As taxpayers, we need to think about what that does to our state.”

The breakfast discussion was moderated by T.J. Obrokta, the president of BrickStreet Insurance, which sponsored the event.