CHARLESTON – As students across our state return to school, it is important to have a fresh focus on the year that lies ahead.
Since becoming governor, I have worked hard to give all West Virginia students access to a world-class education and increased opportunities that allow them to compete on a global scale and achieve long-term success.
I'm proud of the progress we have made to strengthen our schools and expand access to specialized programs, but I also know there is still more work to be done. We want to ensure our kids graduate with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful, and that starts with making sure all West Virginia students receive a 180 days of instructional time.
Nationwide, 29 states require a 180 day-school cycle and an additional 11 states require more than 180 days of instructional time. Research shows a strong correlation between time spent in the classroom and student achievement.
As a result, we must use this standard to give our kids the educational opportunities they deserve.
Standards for post-high school employment and long-term success are increasing for our students and students across the country. The days when a high school diploma alone could open doors to an abundance of stable, well-paying job opportunities to support a family are over. In fact, recent studies show that of the jobs we're creating here in West Virginia, nearly 60 percent will require at least a two-year degree.
If we want our kids to have the best opportunities to become contributing members in our communities and part of our workforce, we must make sure they are learning in the classroom, every day.
Regular student attendance is critical for our kids to achieve success and improve our statewide graduation rate. Too many of our state's students are missing far too many days of school. Instructional class time is time our students simply cannot afford to lose, especially in the early years of their education when reading is critical.
There is a widespread misconception that absences are OK, so long as they are considered "excused" absences. That couldn't be further from the truth. Research shows that missing just two or three days a month can cause students to get so far behind in their classwork, they are unable to keep up with their classmates.
Poor attendance affects more than just middle school and high school students. It can – and often does – start as early as kindergarten and preschool, and can develop poor attendance habits that students carry with them throughout their education. These chronic absences affect not only a student's ability to learn fundamental reading and math skills, but also can affect future work ethics as they enter the workforce.
This year, we launched a statewide truancy diversion initiative to address this problem and help county school systems provide early intervention services to students who need them most. The goal is to keep them in school and provide the individual attention they need to get back on track and prepare for the opportunities we're creating in the Mountain State.
Recently, I visited students at East Hardy High School and Moorefield High School to share this message. As we kick off the year, it's my hope teachers, parents and students across the state will join me in supporting this statewide effort to keep our kids in the classroom. I believe our students can succeed, and opportunities in West Virginia will be waiting for them.
Tomblin is governor of West Virginia.