Las Vegas Sun

March 30, 2015

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Budget crunch woes

Despite fiscal climate, let’s break free of one-size-fits-all education

A couple of stories in the Las Vegas Sun in the past week by Emily Richmond sure got our attention. Her reporting showed how two worthy educational ventures — a program for gifted students and the popular magnet schools that offer specialized programs — are faring during these tough budget times.

A Tuesday story about the nascent program for gifted students noted that in December there was excitement when the federal government announced it would provide a $600,000 grant to the Clark County School District to start a $2.5 million academy for the area’s most gifted students. The reason there was such excitement, as Richmond reported, was that federal initiatives typically target most of the funding for students at the other end of the academic spectrum.

The student body in the proposed academy was going to be small — about 180 students — and would be limited to grades 6 through 12. The students would have to score at least 145 on an IQ test, which would be about 0.1 percent of the population. Students achieving at that level often have very different educational needs than other students, so it would make sense to find the right teachers and educational materials so they can perform to their fullest potential. Otherwise, these students could get bored and frustrated.

But, sadly, reality is setting in as district officials are having to postpone the academy. Some of the money that would have been set aside for the academy instead will be used to boost programs for highly gifted students throughout the valley. But, as Richmond noted, existing programs can’t match a dedicated campus geared specifically to the most gifted students.

And in another reality check, a story in Monday’s paper offered some sobering statistics about the popular magnet schools, which offer specialized instruction in areas such as fine arts, international studies, math and science. To get an idea of just how many students want to get into magnet schools, and how many get left out, consider these numbers: In the upcoming academic year, 2,337 elementary students sought entrance for just 682 available slots at five campuses; 4,502 middle school students sought entrance for 1,486 seats at six campuses; and 9,634 high school students sought entrance for 6,543 seats at 13 campuses. Not exactly great odds.

The district, to its credit, is going to survey families to assess the most popular academic interests and to start converting campuses to support these programs. And while Richmond said the goal is to move toward more specialized programs, it is being done at a slower pace because of fiscal uncertainties.

One of the problems with education today is that it too often has a one-size-fits-all quality. The reality is that not all kids learn at the same pace or have the same academic interests. That is why on one hand it is encouraging to see the district do what it can to better tailor education to the needs of each child. Still, until we provide the schools with a better level of funding to accomplish this, students in Nevada won’t receive the education they deserve.

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