Paul Hardesty, the new chairman of the West Virginia Board of Education, told me last Wednesday morning that he was completely taken aback by the request of the state’s Superintendent of Schools, Clayton Burch, to pass to the open niche as Superintendent of Schools for the Deaf and Blind.
“It’s like dealing a hand of cards. They gave me five cards. They’re no good.” Hardesty said by phone just before his first state Board of Education meeting on Wednesday.
There was speculation circulating that Burch had been forced to resign as state superintendent, with the transfer to schools for the deaf and blind being a face-saving device.
While I didn’t hear anyone on the board or Gov. Jim Justice — a staunch Burch supporter, who also served Justice in two interim cabinet-level positions — speak ill of Burch himself, some were unhappy that Burch and former State Council Chairman Miller Hall filed court documents supporting the parents who sued the Hope Scholarship.
Burch and Hall were co-accused with Governor, Legislative Leadership and State Treasurer Riley Moore (who is in charge of the Hope Scholarship Program, a large college savings account program currently on hold due of a preliminary and permanent injunction). I was told that the Governor received virtually no notice that Burch and Hall were, in essence, going to switch sides.
Remember that the Legislature passed the Hope Scholarship and it was enacted by Justice. It is up to the courts to determine whether the law violates the state constitution. But until then, it is up to the Council of State and the Ministry of Education to enforce the laws passed by the legislature and signed by the courts.
But did this act of defiance result in Burch’s exile to Hampshire County? I have my doubts, if only because I feel like a majority of the board supports it, as does Justice even with the flip-flop in the Hope Scholarship lawsuit. That doesn’t mean Burch didn’t see potential writing on the wall and made a proactive move.
I can tell you from listening to the live broadcast of the State Board of Education meeting that Hardesty is going to steer a tight ship as Chairman of the State Board. He asked Lincoln County education officials about their state emergency plans, telling them they would respond to taxpayers if their plans hurt students.
He was also very critical of the new state assessment results, which showed only slight improvements in math, English and science. Some of this can be attributed to the loss of learning after more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic which saw part of a school year canceled and part of another school year spent half in person. and half in distance learning. But math and ELA proficiency rates weren’t great pre-COVID either.
I got the impression from Hardy when presenting the summary of the assessment that he was not happy with the rather rosy attitude of ministry officials who tried to portray the numbers as positive.
In math, only 33% of students met or exceeded proficiency standards, compared to 28% in the 2020-2021 school year. That’s still down from 39% from 2018-19 (there was no testing for 2019-20 due to the pandemic), and it’s the best since 2014-15 at 30%. Reading proficiency has been declining since 2014-2015. And the master of science, which was taken for the first time in 2017-2018, is on the decline.
This is the number of skills for students meeting or exceeding the standards. The number of students not meeting math standards at all was 36% in the last school year. It is the percentage of the total number of students in grades 3 to 11.
“Tell me 30% to 35% proficiency is good. Well, where I live is not good,” Hardesty told me. The man is a former member and chair of the Logan County School Board.
As a state government reporter, I wear many hats. I’d love to cover state education officials more, but sometimes I have to make decisions about what to report based on what seems important in an agenda. But I’ve covered enough state board members and at least two state school superintendents to constantly hear the sunny side of the quality of public education and the quality of our rates. of graduation.
But our proficiency rates have been terrible for some time, and our schools are pushing students out the door and into the hands of college remedial programs. We send students out into the world unprepared to enter the job market. And parents who care are looking for other options: private schools, homeschooling, and new public charter schools.
Hardesty had a good line at Wednesday’s school board meeting: “Public education is under attack across the country right now and results like this give credence to that attack whether we want to accept it or not.”
Hardesty might just be the kick in the pants our public education system needs.
Steven Allen Adams can be contacted at email@example.com.