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Involve parents now

March 03, 1997

Want your children to have a job after they finish school? Few parents would say no, but more than a few West Virginia parents are lining up to oppose a law they fear will begin slotting children into certain careers as early as elementary school.

The Jobs Through Education Act was passed in the 1996 session of the legislature, after eight public hearings were held simultaneously around the state. Its proponents, including State Schools Superintendent Henry Marockie, say it refocuses attention on basic skills through grade four. Its opponents say that its emphasis on "work-based earning" has sixth graders doing everything from helping clerks at the local Wal-Mart to emptying litter boxes at humane shelters.

State Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, says she fears that training children for specific occupations (instead of giving them a broad-based education) will leave them without jobs if industry's needs change. Furthermore, Boley says, the businesspeople she's talked to favor giving children the basics, plus some computer training, but don't want kids pre-trained.

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To correct what he sees as the bill's failings, Del. Fred Gillespie, R-Wood, has put in a bill to remove requirements that students study certain career fields, that they do on-the-job learning at businesses and that computer technology be used to develop students' basic skills.

There are two problems with with the way this bill has been handled. Instead of enlisting parents as full partners, with a voice to modify what they find objectionable, the school system sprung the idea on them, and now wonders why many object. Nor did the school system do a good job of explaining to lawmakers how the legislation would be implemented.

What parents fear most is that a test taken in grade school will be used to decide their child's future - before that child is even aware of all the possibilities, or is mature enough to make such a choice. Unless the school system opens the process to parental involvement, the good parts of this bill - its emphasis on basic skills and new technology - may get thrown out with the bad.

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