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Congratulations, West Virginia. You have joined the 17 states that label schools with an A-F grade.

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Congratulations, West Virginia. You have joined the 17 states that label schools with an A-F grade.
Gazette editorial – Charleston Gazette-Mail

What have we learned?

Surprise, surprise, the grades track reliably with area household income and everything that comes with it — greater stability at home, opportunity, better health, security.

The F school we know best is Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary in Charleston.

Families served by that school have more than their share of obstacles. The school serves neighborhoods with a concentration of low-income families — people tend to live where they can afford it.

With concentrations of poverty come other things — all of them hard on kids. Study after study documents that shifting living arrangements, violence at home, addiction problems, hunger, even a lot of yelling, stresses and changes a child’s brain. It interferes with sleep, development, school attendance and, of course, school performance. That’s true for anyone, black or white.

So, what will it be?

Cheryl Plear, principal at Mary Snow wants more instructional time — a lot. She wants to keep students whose attendance and test scores are so bad in school over the summer in addition to a traditional school year’s worth of instruction. And she needs more social workers, a typical unmet request of principals who serve poor kids.

We think her criticisms of the existing balanced calendar are misguided. Students at other schools have benefited from the shorter summer break with less summer learning loss and shorter periods without access to school food. But no matter.

Plear has offered a fairly rigorous proposal — add another month or two to the school year for students who need it most. More time and more help, she asks for.

Will the county and state pay for the teachers and staff required? It is telling that Plear automatically talks about trying to pay for this ambitious proposal at least partly with grants, a temporary source of funding at best.

Will the state pass what is needed to require those students to attend more school?

One of the reasons the school scores so poorly is because students miss too many days of instruction. Why would the most challenged students suddenly attend more? Or perhaps having school available year-round would lead to greater attendance over all. It’s worth a try.

But the biggest education problems students face come long before they reach Plear’s school.

Who will help parents solve the problems interfering with their children seizing opportunities at school — problems such as erratic housing, lack of work, emotionally and physically exhausted parents, violence at home, lack of food, and addiction, to name a few.

There are solutions that do make a dent in these seemingly intractable problems. Will the state Board of Education, the governor and everyone else rally around these communities and offer them?

Or will West Virginia’s new A-F school grades be just another way for more fortunate people to shame those who are struggling