Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Intelligencer on African-American student performance in West Virginia schools:
NAACP leaders are right to be worried about how well West Virginia's public schools are educating black students. On average, their performance academically lags badly behind that of white children.
But for a change, the Mountain State seems to be doing better than many other states in closing the achievement gap. That is reason for very guarded optimism.
Look at the numbers from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is one of the few standardized testing programs that allows comparisons of West Virginia students with their peers in many other states:
National numbers for high school seniors on the NAEP mathematics tests show average scores of 160 for white students and 130 for black students, a gap of 30 points.
But in West Virginia, white students had average scores of 145, with black students at 133 — a far narrower gap, at 12 points.
And notice this: While Mountain State white 12th graders scored below the national average, their black classmates were above it.
In other NAEP testing for other subjects and other grade levels, similar results can be seen. Achievement gaps between black and white youngsters in our state are dramatically smaller than in most other states.
Still, there is a very substantial gap here, and that is cause for concern — and a mandate for improvement.
A resolution adopted by delegates to the NAACP state convention earlier this month lists several worrisome factors. Among them is "an alarming disproportionate percentage of African American student suspension & expulsion as compared with Caucasian students ." That, too, is a factor often cited in many other states.
It appears the situation does not involve confrontation with public school officials but, rather, cooperation. As the NAACP resolution noted, state leaders of the organization already have consulted both state school officials and some county school superintendents regarding concerns about minority students. The resolution calls for "continuing engagement" to address problems such as achievement and discipline.
West Virginia's public schools are in need of dramatic improvement if our children — all of them — are to compete with their peers from many other states and, yes, nations. The racial achievement gap represents a need for reform within reform.
Though discredited as a national education reform strategy, a plan adopted a few years ago for the nation should serve as a standard for ensuring all children, of every race and background, are prepared for success:
No child left behind.
The Herald-Dispatch on a skills gap in new manufacturing jobs:
Automation and robotics can be frightening words for some American workers, and understandably so.
Smarter, computerized equipment has changed the workplace — and manufacturing in particular — worldwide. But those machines perform functions that people once did, and many of the "factory jobs" we remember from decades past have gone away.
In their place are new jobs — jobs that often require skills that much of today's workforce does not have.
American manufacturers have actually added nearly a million jobs in the past seven years, according a special report by The Associated Press, and labor statistics show almost 390,000 such jobs are open right now. In fact, experts say it will not be easy to fill the 2 million new American manufacturing jobs that are forecast over the next decade because of the "skills gap."
Rather than putting the pieces together themselves, today's manufacturing workers are often running or troubleshooting computer-directed machinery. Even warehouse and transportation jobs require complex computer programs that keep track of pricing, shipping and inventory.
"There are more computers on the manufacturing floor than machine tools and other types of equipment," Siemens USA CEO Judy Marks told AP. Her company employs 7,500 software developers — nearly 15 percent of its U.S. workforce.
The same transition is going on around the world, but the United States "trails virtually all its industrial competitors in public and private spending on training," said Scott Paul, president of the Alliance of American Manufacturing.
It is in everyone's interest to change that.
We need to retrain older workers and make sure younger workers are getting the education and developing the skills that will help them fill these new jobs and hold on to them as technology continues to change.
That is going to require investment and participation. West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky all have strong community and technical college networks, but too few students take advantage of those training opportunities. Community college enrollment in West Virginia has actually declined in recent years.
Our states have retraining programs for older workers, but considering the scope of the problem, the programs are fairly small, and again, many of those who need the help do not participate.
But as U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio said recently, "we're not going to see the kind of manufacturing renaissance that we all want in this country unless we focus on skills training."
Parkersburg News and Sentinel on new director of West Virginia's new Office of Drug Control Policy:
Let us hope Jim Johnson hits the ground running in his new job. Lives depend upon it.
Johnson has been named director of West Virginia's new Office of Drug Control Policy, it was announced last week. Under supervision of the state Bureau for Public Health, the office's role will be to battle substance abuse.
Naming Johnson to head the agency was a good decision. He had served as an officer, then as chief in the Huntington Police Department. Then, he moved on to direct the city's Office of Drug Control Policy. Huntington has been ground zero for much of the Mountain State's substance abuse epidemic.
State officials seem headed in the right direction in dealing with the substance abuse crisis. They know a mix of law enforcement, treatment of addicts and control of the supply of legal opioid drugs are all critical facets of getting the problem under control. The folks working diligently on this aspect of the problem are hoping for a little help in the economic development department as well, as the hope provided by new jobs could be a huge factor, here.
It is disturbingly clear that if there is a winning formula against drug abuse, we have not found it, however.
West Virginia's substance abuse crisis is the very worst in the nation, in many ways. Our rate of overdose deaths is far above other states.
Which brings us back to timing. Here in the Mountain State, 41.5 of every 100,000 of our residents die annually from overdoses. So Johnson needs to receive the resources and cooperation he needs to help craft a better strategy against substance abuse. Every day we lack that, the crisis claims two of our fellow West Virginians.