Justice pursuing a 'different course' in education

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Justice pursuing a 'different course' in education
By Ryan Quinn, The Charleston Gazette-Mail

When Lloyd Jackson announced his immediate resignation from his vice president spot on the West Virginia Board of Education, he noted it was at former governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s suggestion that the board helped develop “significant policies that are calculated to improve student achievement.”

Jackson wrote in his Tuesday night resignation news release that these policies included implementing the A-F grading system for entire schools and mandating public schools have a minimum of 180 separate days of instruction.

Then Jackson wrote, “It is apparent that Governor [Jim] Justice wants to pursue a different course.”

“Our schools need more local control and they won’t thrive until we get bureaucrats out of the way,” Justice said in a statement in response to the simultaneous resignations of Jackson and board president Mike Green. “I will appoint more reformers to the state board of education who will join me in transforming West Virginia because we owe every one of our students a world-class education.”

What Justice’s exact course will be — and whether he even has a coherent one — has remained unclear to the public so far. Justice, a Democrat, may reveal more Wednesday during his first State of the State Address.

Green declined comment for this article. In an email, Jackson said he had “no idea” where the board might be heading, “so it is premature for me to comment.” He didn’t answer further emailed questions, including whether he knew what direction Justice may be heading.

Despite Justice’s unclear plans, from the few specific statements he and leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature have provided on their near-future education goals, it seems they may significantly change or dismantle several initiatives Justice’s fellow Democrat Tomblin and the state school board serving during Tomblin’s term fought for.

Those initiatives would be the A-F grading system for whole schools, the 180-days requirement and the current annual statewide standardized tests. It also seems the new board — now led by a Justice supporter and half-filled with Justice appointees — will more eagerly support altering or dumping these things.

While they had been discussed for years, all three are relatively young education initiatives in West Virginia. Schools got their first A-F grades this fall, the current Smarter Balanced tests have only been administered statewide for the last two school years and the 180-days requirement took effect in the 2014-2015 school year.

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association school employees union, which backed Justice during his campaign, said he expects the governor and the board to change the A-F system, and he expects Justice to push some sort of increased flexibility regarding the 180-days requirement.

“What I’m excited about is the opportunity to have teachers’ voices heard with this new board and a new direction,” Lee said.

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