Las Vegas Sun

November 28, 2014

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Six Questions:

Can teachers learn to do more with less money?

Brian Sandoval

Brian Sandoval

Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of Washington, D.C., schools, attended last month’s State of the State address at the invitation of Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Although her role in Nevada is as yet undefined, Sandoval said she would be a “voice for students” in the state’s education debate.

Rhee, a registered Democrat who has had a confrontational relationship with teachers unions, is a national figure courted by potential 2012 GOP presidential challengers and reform-oriented governors.

She is also working to raise $200 million to push for national education reforms through her organization StudentsFirst.

(She left her position in Washington after the mayor she served under lost.)

The 2011 Nevada Legislature starts Monday. And lawmakers will consider a variety of changes in education. They will also consider a proposal by Sandoval to cut K-12 by 9 percent. Sandoval said education can be improved even with the cut.

The Sun spoke with Rhee by phone Wednesday. The interview was edited for clarity and space.

By many measures, Nevada’s K-12 system has struggled. Have you identified any problems with it?

Nevada is one of the states that has been falling further and further behind over last few years. I think if you look at most of the states that are facing similar statistics, there’s never one thing you can pinpoint as the reason why things are not going well.

Over the past five years, 95 percent of Clark County teachers got tenure after one year. Is that surprising?

Most states have it structured so teachers get tenure after two or three years. But it’s sort of meaningless anyway because everyone gets tenure. If you give it to everyone, it doesn’t make a difference when you draw that line.

Do you support eliminating teacher tenure altogether?

There’s no correlation between tenure and student achievement. We don’t think there’s a need for tenure. There are federal protections from discrimination in place now that afford teachers and all employees those recourses.

Tenure has turned into something where it’s almost impossible, or costly and time consuming, to remove a teacher.

How would you evaluate teachers?

Fifty percent of a teacher’s evaluation should be students’ value-added growth (a measure of a student’s year-over-year improvement on tests). The rest should be classroom observation; student evaluations of teachers; looking at schoolwide gains, so there’s a team component; and then things above and beyond, like reaching out effectively to parents or coaching soccer.

Washington schools had some of the highest per-pupil funding in the nation. Nevada has some of the lowest. Is there a correlation between money and success?

When I came in, it was one of the lowest performing school districts in the country. It was proof that money is not correlated to outcomes.

Nationally, over the last 30 years we have more than doubled the amount of money we’re spending per student on education and the results have only gotten worse.

Is there a point where you don’t have enough money to function well, even if you make all the right reforms?

I don’t necessarily think anyone is at that point. Let me give you an example: We’re spending billions of dollars nationally for master’s degrees in education for teachers. There’s no correlation between having a master’s degree in education and student gains. So why would we pour money down there?

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  1. 50% evaluation based on TESTS. OK parents have more to do with test scores than teachers. Don't get started on how flawed these tests are. Half my students "christmas tree" or sleep during the standardized test because they do not want to take it.

    Observation evaluation: Political nonsense. If you coach or take on an undesirable club, you will get good evaluations. This is a fact. Office politics are widespread enough, thank you.

    Student observations: Be a pushover who allows cutting class, texting, and ipods and give easy grades and you get good student evaluations. Fact.

    Schoolwide gains: Again parents have much more to do with the schoolwide gains than the teachers. Again based on testing that IS NOT proven to indicate any learning.

    Most the teacher grade is based on a flawed test. Therefore is a flawed grade. Most of the rest is based on opinion based on office politics. Then the opinion of a kid who's priorities are based on how many texts can they send in an hour. Flawed.

    Basically if a teacher wants a better "grade" they move to a cleaner neighborhood and BOOM! Ready for the next version of "White Flight" in America? I can hear the teachers racing from the inner city already!

  2. Teachers should create a fund with the purpose of initiating a recall of the Goofy Governor - California got rid of its governator and sent the crazies to Vegas to help us make the map with the Goofy Governor. (Sandoval or Sandy Valley)

  3. John has said what I would also say. What most readers don't see, is the type of restrictions and politics school site administrators employ to undercut and cripple their teaching staff. It is unfair to teachers to be evaluated according to student test scores. Especially when such teachers are working with huge ELL populations (and the only time students read, write, listen, and speak English is while they are at school!).

    Then you have the students who manipulate to get all manner of priveledges and things for coming to school, behaving, and test taking. During CRT/testing time, throughout the school district, are schools feeding treats to these students during testing, having raffles and prizes, giving away limo rides to a day of dining and entertainment, and more! Just show up and bubble in during testing days! And IF a student feels shorted, they either start making distracting noises during testing, or simply bubble any answer. Then there are testing inconsistancies, as administrators calling individual students into their office to "finish/do" their test. Teachers spend their entire academic time teaching towards the test. Every minute is dedicated towards students successfully completing these high stakes tests, not learning other things than enrich their lives and make them better citizens, as actual dedicated time for science, social studies (many teachers cut instruction minutes here to use for math and reading instruction), character development, and appropriate manners. Ms. Rhee does NOT address this.

    A few years ago, CCSD spent an afternoon at the Orleans stadium to have a Staff Development conference with the "Teacher of the Year." He inspired many, had fabulous ideas, and affirmed to teachers what they are doing right and what they could improve upon. It pains me to no end, when visiting student homes and neighborhoods does so much good (advocated and encouraged by the Teacher of the Year), yet school administrators call in teachers successfully implementing this into back rooms, and tell them to STOP. Students lose motivation, become separated from school and their bonds with teachers doing this, and basically begin to perform worse at school. Where is the back up with the FEDERAL government, school district, or union on this Ms.Rhee? Teachers volunteer their time, fuel, and energy to reach out to their students and community, only to get slapped down. No one talks about this, due to fear and getting intimidated. What about that, Ms.Rhee?

  4. With tenure, let it be reasonable, as 5 years time in service with the district. Whoever came up with one year, obviously had "friends" they wanted to protect within the good ol' boy system. It takes time to build a reputation, loyalty, and trust. Let's be reasonable, not throw the baby out with the bathwater here!

    Maybe stopping "social promotion" as Governor Sandoval proposes, will put the parents of these students in the responsibility hot seat to actually be an "involved" parent. Every year, school districts throughout the State of Nevada, spend millions of dollars compelling teaching staff to discuss and have parents/guardians sign the Parent/Teacher/Student Involvement Contract. This document has NO TEETH as far as enforcement, and is basically cautionary in nature. LAWMAKERS need to create consequences, or TEETH, and enforcement, so when parents don't return notes or phone calls, teachers and administrators have legal recourse, so students will be on track and succeeding in school. Ms. Rhee does NOT address this.By now, most Nevadans should have figured out that our new governor really has a hard time respecting and valuing opinions of Nevada's own professionals. Hence, why he seeks and uses outsiders towards solving Nevada's problems. He has surrounded himself with outside people, acting on their advice on how to run Nevada. We have a professional lawyer/judge now running Nevada. How comfortable are you with that? Most of what will be decided, will be done behind closed doors, and what outsiders think is best for Nevada.

    Hopefully, somebody will enforce immigration laws. Someone will put "teeth" in the Parent/Teacher/Student Involvement Contract. And the good, dedicated teachers of our state will not have their hands tied in working with their students, helping remove barriers to their being successful in school and life. Teachers deal with the "whole person" with individual students. What is $200 million in Ms.Rhee's Students First going to do for our students? She is not saying.

  5. There's no correlation between having a master's degree in education and student gains. So why would we pour money down there?.....

    ...it is a hoax repeated by teacher organizations to justify higher pay. Additionally it drives PROFITS to the Universities.

    More education doesn't make better teachers.

  6. More like "Can SCHOOLS learn to do more with less money?"

  7. John Dooley & Star Ali...

    Thanks for taking the time to post something other than the usual blather on the subject.
    As is the case with almost everything, you have to look under the hood to find the right questions & answers that are pertinent to rationally discussing ANY topic.
    The simplistic one-line rhetoric that gets posted ad-nauseum about why children succeed or fail in our system is meaningless.
    The "Peanut Gallery", by & large, is commenting on something they don't have the knowledge or experience to offer a reasoned or educated opinion on.

    Is the problem teachers, training or curricula?

    Is it inadequate funding, the misdirection of the funds appropriated, or doesn't funding matter?

    Is it the Family the student comes from?
    Is it Socio-economics?
    Is it the gene pool from which the child emanates?

    Is it Administration; Too much? Not enough? Improperly utilized?

    Is it Busing; Too much? Not enough? Improperly untilized?
    Should we have all neighborhood schools? Magnet Schools? Charter Schools? Private Schools?

    "Education" is COMPLEX.
    And so are the answers to the question,
    "How can we make our schools the best they can possibly be?"

    If you think it's all on funding, or all on teachers, or all on families, you are not looking at the whole problem, or the whole solution.
    It won't get better until ALL THE ISSUES are addressed, and reasoned discourse prevails.

  8. I have been residing in Las Vegas since 1959, attended schools such as Fifth Street Elementary, UNLV and colleges in Southern California, hiding and watching constant change with the exception of one entity-"Good ol Boys" system. I say the entire CCSD employee system should be rated for pay and re-hire yearly by Merit, not seniority or what boss likes you. CCSD is extremely top heavy with near 275 persons making over $100,000 p/year, while the average teacher scoops into their own pocket to purchase supplies for their students, receiving about $35,000 p/year to live on. No child left behind leaves many "Behind" due to language and social barriers making teachers have to spend additional time with such students in attempt of bring them up to others current level; thus imposing a poor score for that teacher and/or school. Plain and simple, less money for Teachers and Necessary personnel in our failing CCSD is no answer for advancement, just a simple way to blow Sandoval's dress up for saving money and "No Taxes". Such a shame that we the people are governed by persons that never live "real life" in today's trying times. We need a normal "working person" in government with some common since and ability to compromise with both political parties for best end results to the average population living in Las Vegas, not Washington or Colorado or Los Angeles. There is no place in the US similar to Las Vegas and I/We love it for what it used to be.

  9. I have a different, and perhaps, more germaine question: Will CCSD survive paying exorbitant salaries to non-teaching administrators who spend their days in meetings and contribute little, if anything to the learning process?

  10. "Mother Jailed For Son's School Attendance Problems"
    http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2011/02/0...

    If this happened in Vegas we might see more kids learning. The kids can not learn if they don't show up for class and pay attention.

  11. Just make believe it is summer time and get a summertime job at an ice cream store. At least they'll have cream to eat.

  12. The rest of us are learning to do more with less money, due to job loss, reduced income, higher health insurance costs, etc. Teachers are not "better than" the rest of us. (Nor are they "less than" the rest of us). We all have to do our part, I do agree that the savings need to start at the excessive salaries of administrators. Reality can be a real bummer sometimes, but these times call for cuts by all of us. I've cut and cut and cut my own expenses to survive, so it's someone else's turn now. And a master's degree in my mind is mostly just a tool to achieve higher pay (nothing wrong with working to earn higher pay, and earning the degree is working for it), but that in and of itself does not necissarily make one a better teacher.

  13. The real money question is can schools and the public be brave enough to cut funds on administration. Many administrators and school board members are paid like CEO's. An amazingly high amount of funds goes to administrative overhead costs that do nothing to help in the class room.

    Our classes have become too permissive and manipulated by special interest on all sides, none of which represent what is best for the kids. Sometimes it's union protectionism, meddling from NGO's, groups with political agendas, testing companies who want to sell more tests, over pampered students, ignored kids, kids with no discipline, lack of trust of students, no expectation of responsibility, the attitude that everyone is a winner, no one is allowed to fail.

    With failure and hardship comes strength and growth. Kids value what they earn not what they are given, they know when they are given rewards and advancement they did not earn and it jades them, encouraging them not to try.

    Kids that need discipline no longer receive any, we have become so over protective, so bought into the idea that kids need to be surrounded with padding and protected form everything that we have removed many of the restrictions and tools that drive self control, also something no longer taught.

    It's not about money, look at any and all the schools across the world who out perform us, they all have significantly stricter policies and punishments, they all require greater self control, they all demand more responsibility, they all require more time in the classroom and 2/3 less homework which is often little more than time wasters and we all know it.

    We keep trying to throw more money at the problem, legislate it, create more policies, pamper and ego pad but we all deny the basic problem.

    We are more concerned with union power, administrative greed, and special interest group manipulations than we are with really caring about the kids learning the basics and how to think creatively and critically and we are completely unwilling to impose the disciplinary requirements that schools all over the rest of the world apply liberally.

    Until we do we will never get ahead of the problems, and never get back to the leading position or kids need to be at for our nation to continue and excel.

    One last point, whenever the media wants to dump on our schools they like to point out how other nations school results are beating us. What they fail to mention is how few students actually get to go to these schools, most young people are quickly excluded and low performing students are removed from the system so only the best are allowed to continue. This creates a competitive attitude that makes the kids and their families try harder as they know failure will effect their entire lives and that of their families.

  14. I'm going to toss this out for speculation: Can there be any correlation between the ability to receive sufficient state services to stay alive and the apparent lack of value placed upon getting an education by kids?

    It is my opinion that until the underlying problem of what appears to be a lack of motivation to learn is addressed and solved, no amount of money is going to improve our schools.

  15. Johnnie? with ice?!?

    Glenmorangie, neat please.

  16. In constant watch of others opinions, comments and suggestion regarding this overly important subject of education and its realation to dollars; I see so many intelligent and realistic comments made that I am overly curious of where were all these people when it came to not voting for Sandoval? Some of the comments related to this topic are simply fantastic and to the point, what a shame there are not persons as these in our political system. Forget the political party topic, study the subject carefully and vote for what is right for the average working person and their surroundings to make matters better, a path to repair of all.