Can the Structure of Public Education be Changed?


Members of the state’s education community met Monday at Marshall University to discuss how to take the next step in public education in the state.

Can West Virginia’s public education system be fixed? That was the question that was asked Monday on Marshall’s campus. Charleston attorney Charles McElwee called together administrators and policy makers to discuss how change can be made in the public education realm. McElwee said the current system which follows old outdated standards isn’t working.

“The goal is to try to mobilize citizen support and getting an ever widening number of citizens involved, because if we don’t get citizen support, I think our efforts will be for not,” McElwee said.

The meeting yesterday was the second organized by McElwee, the first was held in Morgantown. McElwee said he hopes that by hosting the forums around the state that more people will get involved and take a closer look at the current K-12 system.

Marshall University President Dr.Stephen Kopp told the group of 30 gathered for the forum that a new action plan needs to be developed to take into account how today’s public school student learns.

“Much of what needs to take place is aligning the scientific foundations and examining the practices that are being followed and ask the question are there other practices that have yet to be fully developed that would have not only a greater impact in terms of the outcomes we’re trying to achieve with the student, but would actually foster deeper learning for our students,” Kopp said.

Kopp went on to say that under the old model a professor in the case of Marshall or a teacher in the case of K-12 was there to profess knowledge on a subject, but in today’s world knowledge can be obtained anywhere, so a professor or teacher needs to do more.

“In this day and age, if professing knowledge is all we’re doing, that learning process can happen just about anywhere,” Kopp said. “The critical question in my opinion is how do we make the transition from being professors to being designers and architects of powerful learning experiences for our students.”

Cabell County Superintendent William Smith realizes changes are the key to improving, but they aren’t always easy.

“Education is very very tough to change, because everyone has done it and they all know what it’s supposed to look like,” Smith said. “When you start talking about change, your biggest opponents is usually your total community because school is the way it was when I was going there in the 50’s, why does it need to be changing now. We need to look at what assessments need to be put in place to determine achievement.”

Smith noted that Cabell County Schools is embracing the idea of a different learning environment. An older middle school is being remodeled into a consolidated elementary school. There, an incubator school will be formed  – one of just a few schools in the country to take part in expeditionary learning, where kids become much more involved in their day-to-day instruction. Marshall University’s June Harless Center will help train teachers in the new learning techniques.

“I think student engagement is a major issue for schools, we need to think about how we engage our students and how do we measure that, that tells me whether a school is going to be successful or not,” Smith said. “But when you’re talking about student engagement, it’s not just what they know, but what they can do, so assessment is going to have to be more I guess in terms of what a student can do.”

McElwee hopes the ideas from the meeting lead to change in the state’s education system.