Gregory S. Prudich: W.Va. schools were ambushed by Legislature

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Gregory S. Prudich: W.Va. schools were ambushed by Legislature
Legislation by ambush; that’s what we just witnessed. The education community in West Virginia was going about our important work and bam — waylaid by the Legislature.

I am speaking of the bill to repeal the Next Generation standards, West Virginia’s version of the Common Core standards in math and English/language arts. (House Bill 2934). It had not been part of the legislative program until Feb. 24. Certainly rumors were flying, but no bill. Suddenly it is on the floor of the House for first reading, with essentially no debate.

So big deal, you say. Consider this. The House Education Committee took up the bill, heard from one person, who was well known to oppose the standards. Did the state superintendent of schools get to address the legislation? No. Did the state Board of Education get to address the bill? No. Did representatives of the West Virginia School Boards Association get to address the bill? No. How about county superintendents? No. County administrators? No. Most importantly, Teachers? No.

So all those who are tasked with educating our children by implementing and teaching the standards were not even given the courtesy of being heard? Why?

Why did the bill, which could have been introduced weeks before now, suddenly find itself moving without input from the stakeholders? Well, I would guess because those in charge want the bill to pass, they are in charge, and they are going to do what they want. It smacks of hubris.

Those in power are feeling a little too empowered. They find themselves doing what they want to do — those who are impacted be damned. They have decided they know best and do not want to even debate the issue. They have accepted one point of view as fact — opposing views are not welcome.

Of course this has been done before, but that doesn’t make it right or good governance. (By the way, I looked at House Education Chairwoman Amanda Pasdon’s campaign web page. No mention of repealing Next Generation standards. Just the generic “I’m for education,” “I support schools” stuff.)

Those who vote for the bill tell the press “we” are getting all kinds of calls from parents, teachers, administrators and even superintendents who don’t like the standards. So some don’t like the standards. No surprise. Remember that the opponents are a very vocal group.

But there are many who like the standards. They are simply not as vocal. They are busy working to educate children and operate our schools system. More to the point, proponents of the standards have not been given the time or the courtesy to be heard. On the floor of the House in one day; really? Something this important? Those in power have chosen to have no debate — legislation by lying in wait, then, boom — ambush!

The legislation not only repeals the Next Generation Standards, but it goes so far as to set up a select group to consider and review future standards. Is it made up of education professionals, experts in their respective fields, who have been trained to teach? Only partly.

The group will consist of many who have no background in education, no training in education and no real understanding of what and when children need to learn content. Six legislators will serve — appointed by the leaders in the House and Senate. So now we’re going to have politicians deciding what our children will learn. Doesn’t’ that concern you? It should.

We do not need to politicize education standards. We do not need individuals who lack the proper training and background deciding education standards. This stealth legislation, filed and run through the education committee by ambush should be returned to the committee for further consideration.

All parties should be heard. Those who are actually experts in education in West Virginia need to have a say. Then you run the bill. Then if it passes, it passes. You debate such an important issue; you don’t force it through because you think you know best. The current approach should concern everyone. This type of governance should frighten you, even if you support the legislation.

If the Legislature persists in their actions, I hope the state board brings suit to stop this overreach (as was done in Louisiana when the governor down there attempted this type of action). After all, like it or not, the West Virginia Board of Education is constitutionally empowered with “the general supervision of the free schools of the state … .”

Education content should not be politicized as is happening here. Elections have consequences. That much is true. It does not follow that those who become newly empowered have been given carte blanche to do as they choose, when they choose, without debate. (Except In actuality, it does mean that very thing. Hubris.)

Education is being ambushed in West Virginia. It should be an unacceptable approach to governance over the issue of education. Whether you agree with the bill or not, I hope you don’t think that the approach is appropriate or fair … because it isn’t. Call your legislators. Tell them to slow down and debate the issue, not ambush the education system.

Gregory S. Prudich, of Princeton, is president of the Mercer County Board of Education.