West Virginia editorial roundup
Posted November 23
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
Charleston Daily Mail on West Virginia's public schools' grading system:
On the surface, it would make sense to grade West Virgina's public schools on an A through F system. After all, isn't that how students are measured?
Yet, it is much more complicated to tell how well a school — that collective organization of students, teachers, administrators, staff and community — is performing.
For instance, in Kanawha County, Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary and Riverside High School were among the two percent of schools statewide which received a grade of F.
Riverside actually scored a C, reported the Gazette-Mail's Ryan Quinn. But since at least 90 percent of students did not participate in mandatory standardized tests, the school's grade was automatically lowered to an F — as if it got a bad grade for not completing the final.
But despite the failing grade, Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary and Riverside High are not failing schools.
They are schools with significant challenges for the students who attend them. They are schools that have dedicated teachers, staff and administrators who are making a positive difference in the lives of hundreds of children.
"The children live in a community littered with dilapidated houses and characterized by high rates of concentrated poverty, single female headed households, substance abuse, domestic violence, crime, drug trafficking and child abuse and neglect," wrote the Rev. Matthew J. Watts in a Gazette Opinion column Friday regarding the Mary C. Snow attendance area.
It's worth considering that the letter grade for Mary C. Snow Elementary — and any school — is more of a grade on the capacity of the community to support the area's children than it is on the quality of the school's teachers and administrators.
While the grading system is well-intended, it deserves an F in informing the public of how well a school is actually doing in educating the kids who come through its doors.
"Schools are not like individual students that can make drastic and quick changes in grades in a short time period," blogged Kanawha County teacher and local business person Dana Ferrell earlier this year.
"Anyone who knows anything about social, cultural and geopolitics understands that schools don't have much control over the exterior dynamics that enter their classrooms each day. Drugs, unemployment, poverty and depression are just a few of the factors that enter a school's doorways and effect performance."
"Battling and changing these factors can take years or decades to change, if ever," Ferrell wrote. "And once a school gains a negative status, it can send them into a spiral that will make it even tougher to make changes."
Teaching kids involves more than academic success and standards. Considering the difficult circumstances many kids face at home, teachers often are trying to help children learn basic skills and basic behavior.
The grading system does not measure the rate of success academically for children who enter the door at a low level due to conditions at home. It doesn't show how much some kids are inspired to improve by loving teachers. Therefore, the unintended consequence of the A-F system will likely be a long-term stereotyping of communities.
While the school system and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin deserve credit for trying better ways to assess school performance, this is one method that needs to be sent back and marked Incomplete.
The Herald-Dispatch on childhood obesity in West Virginia:
Obesity is a serious problem in West Virginia and most other states, and efforts to reduce the rates of overweight people have brought few significantly positive results.
At the school level, there have been various initiatives to tackle the issue and try to bring the rate of childhood obesity down. West Virginia, for example, has implemented minimum requirements for exercise for students, and the state has won some recognition for the participation rates of its students in national exercise initiatives. County school systems, including Cabell, have put an emphasis on offering healthier school lunch options.
A couple of years ago, there was evidence that the effort was paying off, to a degree. The West Virginia University School of Medicine's CARDIAC Project found that the state's obesity rate among fifth-graders had remained steady, albeit at a still far-too-high level, at 28 percent. At least the rate was not heading higher.
But a recent report suggests that efforts to help children avoid becoming obese needs to begin even before they head to school. A study published this month in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found that West Virginia's obesity rate among young children from low-income families increased from 14.4 percent in 2010 to 16.4 percent in 2014. The study was produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and it tracked obesity rates in children 2 to 4 years old enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.
West Virginia's rate was ninth highest in the nation, and one of only four states that the study found to have significant increases in their rates, which were all well above the national prevalence of 8.9 percent. Ohio was also among that group, with an obesity rate of 13.1 percent in 2014. While Kentucky's rate decreased, it was still far above the national average, at 13.3 percent.
What's especially concerning about the new data is that some research has suggested that a child's "weight fate" is determined by age 5, and that nearly half of kids who became obese by the eighth grade were already overweight when they started kindergarten.
So, with that in mind, the new data suggests that more children from low-income families in West Virginia are on the path to obesity as they get older. That rising trend of childhood obesity will make it difficult for the state, which has the nation's second highest rate of obesity among adults, to make inroads against the problem overall in the future.
To address the issue, the government should review its requirements for the WIC food packages to see whether more can be done to steer parents toward healthier food purchases for them and their young children. In addition, policy makers at all levels should seek to boost education programs aimed at parents of young children to encourage more healthy eating and increased exercise for their youngsters. The extra attention to those details could help our toddlers avoid a future plagued by poor health.
The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register on President-elect Trump and the coal issue:
How much good President-elect Donald Trump can do for the devastated coal industry in West Virginia and Ohio remains to be seen. As we have pointed out, some of the damage caused by President Barack Obama's war on coal and affordable electricity will be irreversible.
At least Trump has not forgotten about us, however. Too often, political campaign promises are forgotten even before final vote tallies are received.
West Virginia Gov.-elect Jim Justice — a Democrat, it should be noted — reports that last week, Trump called him. The two spent about 15 minutes discussing how Mountain State coal miners can be put back to work, Justice related.
The sooner efforts to that end begin, the better. Also as we have noted, decisions sealing the fates of coal-fired power plants, mines and miners are being made every day.
Good for Trump for making his intentions clear. Let us hope that, working together, he and Justice can, as the president-elect vowed again in his call, "get those coal miners back to work."