Howard O’Cull: School ‘work action’ a teachable moment

The Free Press WV

In 1972, Chinese premier Zhou Enlai was asked about the impact of the French Revolution. He responded, “Too early to say.”

Zhou Enlai’s words were “too delicious to invite correction,” according to a diplomat who heard the interchange. Sources, including London-based History Today, conclude the premier alluded to a 1968 student uprising in France — not the 1789 French Revolution.

Closer to home, the recent school employee “work action” is gleaning varied interpretations. A Charleston Daily Mail editorial page columnist wrote, “The handling of this crisis by our elected leaders has set a precarious stage for the future. How can more strikes be prevented when this one was such a rousing success?”

The school employee work action illustrates how motivated intra-group partisans can displace long-standing organizational approaches to policy issues by using calculated, tactical strategies — including social media, shifting coalitions and intensified political pressure — to ensure intra-group agenda attainment.

Admittedly inexact in comparison, West Virginia’s nascent public-school system evolved amid tension between centralized education policy advocates and local education proponents who viewed centralization as less malleable to address taxable wealth variances between districts and geographic concerns — writ large issues today.

Through fits and starts, West Virginia’s largely centralized public education system developed during decades following the state’s constitutional conventions.

The Great Depression, however, ushered today’s school system. Citizens, fearing loss of property due to local taxing capabilities, adopted a constitutional amendment eliminating 398 local school districts, establishing today’s 55 county unit system.

The county unit system, co-joined with a standardized school funding apparatus, intensified public education centralization. Centralization escalated decades later due to litigation demanding funding equity between school districts. The litigation also emphasized school facilities improvements, curricula and heightened schooling outputs.

Additionally, the funding lawsuit, Pauley v. Bailey, enshrined centralized policymaking through slews of state Supreme Court decrees.

Public education policy centralization was apace from the 1970s to the mid-1990s as legislators confronted county-based school employee collective bargaining proposals.

Public employee collective bargaining legislation wasn’t enacted. Anecdotally, the Legislature veered from collective bargaining, instituting statutory school employee work procedures — uniform statewide laws superseding school board employee-related decision-making. (In fairness many of the initial laws addressed nefarious school board employment practices.)

Indeed, school employee laws were revised over 150 times from 1980-1995 (when public employee bargaining calls were strongest). The result: Today’s de facto collective bargaining between non-elected school employee organizations and elected officials.

Centralized school personnel legislation is often enacted because of the first law of politics — elected officials need sponsors or, stated differently, sponsors need elected officials.

Secondly, public education interest groups, through use of lobbying and other political strategies, see uniformity as the means to preserve organizational wisdom, conventionality and standing.

Thus, public education is stagnant, averse to change. Indeed most West Virginia school districts face retrenchment due to persistent student enrollment losses.

While centralized policymaking has virtue to address this issue, does state prescriptiveness hinder more apt approaches locals could use to address discrete county issues? Who’s accountable?

Expanding our questioning: Is there a connection between West Virginia’s dismal academic achievement standings and the easy politics of interest group incrementalism which spawns from West Virginia’s dynamic “political fatalism”: “‘Charleston’ will solve things?”

Teachable moment: Citizens must reshape public education. How? Know public education policy; attend school board meetings; discuss education policy with lawmakers; form education study groups; promote schools as locus for most education decision-making.

Most of all, talk with teachers to understand difficulties they encounter — parental apathy, student absenteeism, social issues fallout, paperwork, plethora of tests.

Unlike Zhou Enlai’s “Too early to say,” West Virginia’s public education plight is known and dated. Citizens must act with urgency to reform a largely 19th-century schooling model which we, not sponsored politicians or formidable education interests, continuously bequeath to generations of students.

~~  Howard M. O’Cull, Ed.D., is executive director of the West Virginia School Board Association - Daily Mail ~~

We want the County to become WV’s star performer known throughout the State for producing the highest achievement students.

How can this be done? Simple. Establish goals for math, science, and other subjects and aggressively manage the school system accordingly.

This will require establishment of a clearly written, professionally done holistic plan containing specific goals to achieve, establishment of personal accountability at different levels in the school system, accurate and timely reporting of achievement results as we proceed, and applying improved approaches when necessary to keep the plan on track.

We have heard for too long that everything is “just fine” in the County, and we continue to hear it today from some quarters.

Folks, things are not ‘just fine’ when too many of our students leave high school unprepared for college and careers. Where we go from here is the primary responsibility of the elected school board.

Teachers and staffs are more than ready to deal with obstacles confronting them and all they need is to be enabled to do their jobs.

The time is over for continuing to be hampered with lame excuses for why major improvements cannot be made i.e., Gilmer County is too poor, too many kids lack family support they deserve, and keen focus on public education is foreign to the community’s culture.

Comment by Gilmer County Teacher  on  03.30.2018

The Governors and the elected Legislators made the time ripe for the “educators revolt”.

The past 20 years, state employees, all who work outside the ‘capitol complex’ have been dissed.

Put off.  Put down.  Worked around.
That was clearly understood by our state employees.

That dissention was completely ignored by our failed state leadership.

Clearly it was time for action.  Social media was a major player….for the good.

The Governor, the Legislators, have now been put on notice to not ignore state issues, while they feather their own nests.

Now, lets see social media swing into action,  straighten out the Public Service Commission, and their gross failure to hold Frontier Communications lack of customer service to the fore. Some leader needs to step forward and make it happen.

We see what can happen with some leadership.  Social media is the citizens friend.  The election is just a few weeks away.  Its time to build a fire under the Public Service Commission.  Governor Justice you might even give it a shot to fire them…...up?

Comment by J.P.  on  03.30.2018

This is a suggestion for getting breaking news out to the community concerning important new improvements in the County’s school system.

We hear that improvements are being made to increase student performances in mathematics, reading, and other areas. The changes include getting back to basics for math teaching to eliminate achievement gaps.

Would someone write up something to explain the new changes to keep the community informed? One improvement I know is that progress reports come home regularly so families can track how kids are doing.

There is nothing wrong with positive news getting out to demonstrate that Gilmer County is positioning itself to become a leader in public education. The County deserves all the positive press it can get.

Comment by Appreciative Parent  on  04.05.2018

Why is important school system improvement news of the type addressed in the other comment not on the County’s school system’s web site?

Someone in the board office should be assigned to write up news to keep citizens informed.

We are expected to vote in more tax money to run the schools and we deserve to be informed of positive improvements being made with our money instead of taking our support for granted. It works both ways.

Comment by R. Curry  on  04.06.2018
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