Last month, the state Department of Education released the first “Balanced Scorecard” to provide a snapshot of how public school students are performing and to provide a baseline from which to measure future progress.
The math scores were terrible. Eighty-eight percent of the state’s 116 high schools were rated “substantially below the expected level set by the State Board of Education. Middle and elementary school students preformed a little better, but not much.
One of the issues is the shortage of qualified math teachers. State School Superintendent Dr. Steve Paine revealed on Talkline last week that nearly one-third (30 percent) of algebra classes are taught by teachers not certified in that discipline.
To his credit, Paine has not tried to spin the bad news. Instead, he and his team have put together a five-year plan to reverse the disturbing trend. Here are some of the highlights of the Math4Life campaign:
–The Department of Education will immediately begin face-to-face and virtual training for math teachers who want to advance their certification and for educators who want to become certified in math.
–The state will contract with what Paine calls “exceptional master teachers” to teach higher level math to students using video conferencing technology.
–The Department intends to work with the Legislature to expand existing scholarship programs and add loan forgiveness or other incentives to attract young people to the math teaching profession.
–Local schools can apply for grants from a pool of $400,000 to help fund their math improvement initiatives.
–All 55 counties have agreed to participate in the math improvement campaign, which will include annual progress reports and plans for the next year.
West Virginia’s economic vitality and quality of life are indelibly linked to education. Hoover Institute Senior Fellow Eric Hanshek has studied the connection between test scores and achievement. He writes, “Our current students’ skills will dictate our economic future in the long run.”
Math is one of those critical skills. His research, along with his German colleague Ludger Woessmann “shows a clear link between nations’ test scores on international math and science tests and their economic growth rates between 1960 and 2000.
My personal suggestion would be to apply the principle of supply and demand and pay higher salaries to the best math teachers available, but I know that’s a non-starter in a state-run system.
Absent a market-based solution, Paine and company have made two important steps in improving our students’ math outcomes. They have acknowledged the severity of the problem and are putting in place measurable steps to correct it.