Sometimes numbers lie. But when they tell the same story year after year about West Virginia public school students lagging behind many of their peers in the U.S. and abroad, Mountain State residents are compelled to take them seriously.
And when public education officials tell the same story year after year - just wait, we're making progress - taxpayers have no choice but to wonder if they are hearing the truth, or merely a recitation calculated to head off demands for genuine change.
Just a few weeks ago, results of the most recent round of ACT testing were released. Again, as has been the case for many years, Mountain State students scored lower than national averages.
On other tests given nationally, including the SAT and NAEP examinations, West Virginia students do not compare well with their peers elsewhere.
Yet year after year, often pointing to the WESTEST 2 or its predecessors, state officials insist our students are making progress.
For decades, West Virginians have been promised real progress in making our schools better. Most recently, the federal No Child Left Behind law was supposed to do the job. After 10 years we know beyond doubt NCLB has been a failure - and many of our schools do not measure up even by its warped yardstick.
New ideas have been proposed through a 151- page "audit" of West Virginia schools, conducted by a consulting firm with a track record of sucess in other states.
More than 100 recommendations for change to improve student achievement and in the process save the state $70 million a year are contained in the audit report. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and legislators have had much of the summer to review the suggestions and think about them. Public input has been obtained through a series of hearings, including one in Wheeling.
Now it is time to act - to decide what ideas recommended by the consultant can work for West Virginia and to move quickly and decisively to implement them.
Will some of the proposals fail? Almost certainly. As soon as we know those ideas are not working, they should be discarded and, if evidence suggests it, new ones should be substituted.
But none of the consultant's recommendations will help if we do not try them - if we do not recognize what we are doing now is not working and dramatic changes are needed. Now is the time to move forward, to insist on public schools that can compete with any in the nation. We owe nothing less to our children and grandchildren.