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February 1, 2015

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Brian Greenspun: Where I Stand:

Imagine a better educated populace

We could use a country full of much smarter people right now!

I can’t remember a time when so many bad things were going on in the world, so many challenges needed solutions, so many happenings seemed well beyond our ability to control their outcomes and, at the same time, so many people appeared on television as pundits or experts with so many competing ideas, complaints and criticisms about those who are trying to make good decisions.

I don’t know anyone who can fix health care, solve Japan’s awful situation — one that shows the interdependence of countries around the globe — figure out which side in which country we should be on in the Arab Awakening, deal with the lagging, sagging and dragging economic situation in America that has put people in the foulest of moods, and be prepared for whatever else is thrown our way.

Actually, Bill Clinton would get my vote, but beyond that impossible dream, I can point to few who would have the mental and other capacities to sort through the world as we know it. My second option, then, is to try to do what I can to make sure more people growing up in the United States become the smartest, best-educated and best-trained people on the planet, so that when their time comes, they will be better equipped to deal with their issues. And they won’t be content to be stay-at-home snipes who contribute little or nothing to solutions.

In that context, I recommend everyone read the book “A Chance to Make History” by Wendy Kopp, who founded Teach for America 21 years ago. It is based on a simple premise — that educating our children is an adult problem, so we should act like adults and not children. And that means making sure every child is fully prepared for a college education. Actually, those are my words, not hers.

It should be no secret that people with college educations generally have greater earning power throughout their lives, enjoy a higher standard of living, achieve a higher quality of life in most cases and are able to cope with issues in less stressful and more satisfying ways. Again, my words, not hers.

Assuming that’s true, and knowing not everyone will go to college nor should go to college, aren’t we still better off as a society if we prepare our kids for higher learning should they choose to go?

What “A Chance to Make History” shows us is the traditional tenets of American education that suggest children from socioeconomically deprived areas are not, for the most part, college bound or college worthy are just bunk. In fact, what Teach for America has proved is that all children can learn and learn at the highest levels. And, to the extent that they can’t or won’t, it’s an adult problem.

In case after case, Kopp discusses the manner and modes of teaching that have come from Teach for America alumni, who enter the education workforce through a route different from traditional teachers. They are not trained at teaching colleges and universities. Rather, they are recruited from the top ranks of graduates in all areas of academic pursuit.

They can be biology majors, government, philosophy or premed students. They are among the best and brightest of their graduating classes, and they volunteer — to be paid and treated as any other teacher — for some of the toughest assignments available. They move into the economically depressed areas of major cities where the poor, often forgotten and most vulnerable of our citizens live. It is the children from those neighborhoods who are stereotypically slated for prison, gangs or some other form of failure.

What Kopp shows us through this book are the incredible turnarounds of schools that could have been closed and the unbelievable achievements made by children who might never have stood a chance to succeed. Instead, almost all kids fortunate enough to be taught by Teach for America teachers will go to college.

Imagine a United States in which our prisons become less crowded because people destined for lives behind bars have been given the advantage education that makes them productive members of society rather than drains on the treasury.

Imagine a United States in which our best and brightest are not just a relative handful of students but, rather, a deep and broad cross-section of Americans — each one eager to succeed and with the requisite academic skills to do so.

Imagine the discussions around the kitchen table and across the airwaves when those doing the talking and listening all have the benefit of what college can teach them.

That is the kind of America Teach for America envisions, and that is the vision that has impelled its teachers toward finding a better way to achieve academic success. It isn’t easy, but it is doable.

What Kopp has proved is that, contrary to the ideological positions staked out in the Nevada Legislature, there are no silver bullets, no simple answers to solving our broken education system. To be sure, money is important, but more important are the leaders with vision and the teachers with skills who can teach in an environment dedicated to the children rather than the adults.

Folks, we have a chance to make history. Take it!

I know an education takes time and I know that with the kinds of challenges we face today, time is more our enemy than our friend. But there will be other Japans, other kinds of awakenings and other financial crises.

Wouldn’t this country be so much better off if our citizens were smarter and more educated than those who must deal with the problems of today?

This shouldn’t be a difficult decision. Get the book. Read it. Then do something about it, because this is our chance to make the kind of history that means something.

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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  1. Brian,
    Wonderful letter.
    Send a few cases of the book up to Carson City.
    Don't bother sending one to your namesake, the Guv.
    He's writing his own book; "fORSAKING NEVADA; Stepping On the Silver State to Further My Political Ambitions".
    He's only written the first line..."It really wasn't a tough choice".
    Contrary to popular opinion, there are many good, decent folks on both sides of the isle working for Nevada's best interests in the Capital. Unfortunately for this session of the legislature, the right has lost the one guy we couldn't afford to have them lose; Bill Raggio, & gained the one person we couldn't afford to have them gain; B.S.

    Gutting Education as a means to balance the budget is nothing short of dumping gallons of water into a sinking boat while yelling, "REALLY! THIS WILL WORK!"

  2. "We could use a country full of much smarter people right now!"

    Greenspun -- you should have asked how many of the unemployed, including the homeless, have degrees. True education doesn't come from institutions. The greatest scientific advances in history came from ordinary people who were curious about the world around them and applied themselves to it. The Wright Brothers were bicycle mechanics, etc.

    "If money is your hope for independence you will never have it. The only real security that a man will have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience, and ability." -Henry Ford

  3. Thank you, Mr. Greenspun, for writing such a positive letter about the benefits of education.

    Let's hope that our fellow citizens will comprehend that our state cannot prosper if it continually drags the very bottom of national education statistics. What Governor Sandoval and his "no new taxes" followers propose now is to dig education even deeper into a hole of limited choices and lost opportunities for our young people. His proposed radical destruction threatens to dismantle education infrastructure to the point that Nevada will no longer be last among states, but soon lag behind Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Marshall Islands, and even some developing, non-industrialized nations. Responsible citizens and our legislators must not let this happen, must not so imperil the futures of our young people.

    Your letter about Teach America counters the irresponsible ideological view that education is a "cost" with evidence that it is an investment, and one that pays off many fold for the body politic not only in dollars and cents but also with the long-term values of innovation, achievement, and human aspirations that enrich all our lives.

    Let's all remember that education is a human right. Our government signed and advocated this right on December 10, 1948, when it signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 26: "Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit."

  4. We're smart enough now, but as most citizens of the world, check the recent political news, fail to pay attention and react to changes that allow unfair benefit for selfish few that creates imbalance.
    Consider us continuing to rely on the few in government, the few economists and the few advisors to deal with our economic problems, and haven't they tried, when our greater numbers provide us with more knowledge and more power, hence real opportunity to undertake personal actions aimed at eliminating unfair benefit for selfish few which creates imbalance and prevents the reciprocation necessary for economic sustainment.

  5. OMG. I get on a plane and leave town, and when I land I find a liberal lovefest has erupted on this page.

    We live in a nation that spends more on education than any nation in the world. We live in a nation where the opportunities for higher education are very real, albeit costly. Yet column asserts we are not an educated people. Why is that guys? Home much more money will it take to get the job done?

    Fiscal responsibility and accountability are part of the deal guys.

  6. PS. Kumbaya, Kumbaya

  7. But, but, BUT Brian...where oh where would you find your staff if the unwashed masses were better educated?

  8. Possibly if we enforced existing immigration laws that would be a start.

  9. The statement that "the United States spends more on education than any nation in the world" is just not true. The U.S. spends near the top, certainly, IF we consider both expensive private and public school spending, and when private and public universities are factored in (which, BTW, are also a source of export income, if we consider that U.S. higher education, including NSHE, attracts more foreign students who pay out-of-state tuition than any other university system).

    For K-12, though, we are not nearly at the top. Of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries (OECD): "Compared with the percentage of GDP that the United States spent on elementary and secondary education, 8 countries spent a higher percentage, 19 countries spent a lower percentage, and 1 country spent the same percentage" (from IES National Center for Education Statistics). So: the statement is problematic for all kinds of reasons, not least that it is coming from an ideologue who backs a "no new taxes" Nevada governor who would rather give taxpayer welfare to mining companies and rural land owners who pay next to zero (or zero) in taxes than to support improving education in our state.

    Looking at Nevada, the per-pupil spending appears to be 45th to 47th in the U.S., depending on which measurement scale is used. As to the question, "home (sic) much more money will it take to get the job done", the answer is: Nevada cannot get the job done by radically cutting budgets, and certainly not by cutting 47% in state support over a mere four years for higher education.

    But, really, these "no new taxes" ideologues don't care if education improves. They consider only money, and precious little of it, too, at the irresponsible expense of lasting values and basic human rights for Nevada children.

  10. Why wouldn't we consider those factors Professor?

    WASHINGTON - Given its investment in education, the United States isn't getting the return it expects when compared with the performance of other nations, a report shows.

    "Among more than 25 industrialized nations, no country spends more public and private money to educate each student than the United States, according to an annual review by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development."

  11. In 2006-2007,Nevada spent almost $8,000 per pupil in public school. That is about 15% below the national average of about $9,700. Utah, Idaho, and North Carolina were below us.

    Clark County School District's budget is well over $2.0 billion this year.

  12. Really Professor, the righwing blogs do care very much(or some of us do).

    You assume that money = improvement, but haven't proven it. Indeed many of the OECD stuff indicates otherwise.

    In the case of higher education, your solution to costs spiraling out of control over one-half century (see the indices regularly published in the Chronicle of Higher Education), well above any growth in the economy. Student are indebted for hundreds of thousands of dollars, tuition goes up and public contributions increase. You then say how dare you make this about money? You boys at the academy made it about money and then you sneer when someone says you guys have to find a way to bring costs under control before you get more, put higher education on a trajectory that matches costs in the rest of the ecnonomy so we can provide reasonable opportunities for qualified students. Sorry you don't want to soil your hands with dirty money, but you are happy to spend it.

    As for OECD my statement said money not dollar of GDP on education. Not proven. How much more money professor?

  13. Wouldn't that be nice and good for America, however, sadly to say over the last 15 years liberal politics has desecrated these kids into a human cesspool for freeloading whining sniveling kids who except everything and will not work for anything.

    The age of electronics and instant gratifications, combined with the social degenerates that these kids look up to have created generations of lazy whining sniveling self righteous brats. This is compounded with liberal interferences where adults can't be adults with these kids. These kids were raised without accountability and idolizing the gangbanger rappers that are proud of rape, murder, and robbery. Let's not forget their idols, Brittany Spears, Lindsey Lohan, Paris Hilton, and many repugnant people that from a layman's point of view is nothing to be proud of. Liberals have lead their mindless liberal trolls down a pathway of self destruction and you want us to spent more money trying to educate people who can't even do simple math or use their brain without a computer.

    Try this one on for size, go to any store and ask anyone under the age of 35 not to use the cash register and count your change back in 5 seconds or less, this is from the point of sale to walking away You'd be surprised, and yet these are the people you expect us to spend more money on; we're done spending money on the liberals touchy feely be nice educational system that hasn't yielded for the most part any positive results and never will.

    If teachers and parents can't enforce simple rules and hold kids accountable, the ratio of educated kids will continue to fall. The lack of rules without accountability is the primary reason America will never produce quality education and no amount of money will solve the liberal biased educational system.

    I'm sure you'll all deny any accountability or responsibility but I can be sure of one thing, you know somebody if not quite a few who can't keep a job or have miserably failed in their adult life, they're the miserable one blaming everybody else but themselves, they're the whiners and complainers about who isn't doing something for them, they want more in life but don't want to work for it, the list goes on and on. Here is hint for you, the foreclosures and this economic meltdown didn't happen all by itself, consumers played a major role in this, they signed the paperwork and did the math and liberals are total denial why this occurred. You simply can't educate people that can't be educated using the liberal system.

  14. Last post here: once again, distortions and misrepresentations from the right-wing blogs, including this Turrialba person who does not identify himself by name on this post page: they choose to cite statistics that average in the high costs of private colleges and universities (Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Yale, etc") with lower-cost state universities, then they use the combined dollar figure to accuse state universities, including the Nevada system, of high costs.

    The truth: the NSHE system tuition and fees structure historically has been very competitive, below national averages, and extremely inexpensive for Nevada students relative to the costs of higher education in the Southwest region. And over the past four years, the NSHE system has done a tremendous job of streamlining budgets and consolidating delivery while absorbing the 27% budget cuts NSHE has endured from 2007-2010, while still maintaining quality.

    The irony: if these right-wing ideologues have their way with the budget, they well know the result will be higher tuition and fees for all students. But that's what they want: limited choices and lost opportunities for our state's young people.

  15. LOL Professor.

    You have ignored the very reasonable position that funding should be linked to cost control and long-term cost control. The fact is, recession or no higher education costs have exceeded cost in the general economy almost every year for the past 50 years. I for one think that dropping $30k per student per year is a lot. The Regents can only then pass a budget with a 3% increase from the previous biennium. It is expensive and getting more so by the year since costs are rising faster than productivity in general economy. The fact that you cannot bring yourself to agree with this is not really the issue. The long-term viability of your institution is in question and accessiblity and affordiability is the issue. It is called pragmatism--making it work in the here and now and the future with limited resources.

    Calling me some idealogue or whatever doesn't change a thing. Higher education has to change if it is going to lead us out of this mess. You are not competitive and less so in a state that is dramatically poorer than it was just a few years ago.

    Higher education is being asked to do its part as are many others in this state.

  16. Public schools are no longer in the business of educating students. And have not been since about 1970 or so. The college students of today are even less prepared than from my generation. Today the graduation rate is about 47% about 1/3rd are ready for college - they think. Many of them will need zero level classes. So maybe 10% of the total graduates will be ready for college. These kids were not taught to think but rather parrot answers for the test. They are button pushers, they have no idea why they push buttons but they are rewarded for it, so they do it.
    If we are to get out of the mess we are currently in, then you must first objectively name the problem, you cannot. TO have a solution you must correctly identify the problem and not just a symptom of the problem, treating only the symptoms does only that and does not treat the problem. IF you have cancer and treat for nausea, the cancer will kill you. You can put monkeys, cows, burros, or a dvd in the tv in the classroom and get as good results.

    A real education would be a great asset, unfortunately the Nevada school system at ALL levels is incapable of offering anything that approximates Education.

  17. Governor Daniels and Superintendent Bennet have both agreed on a more equitable way to pay all teachers. Both are of the opinion that the majority of teachers are nothing more than "high paid" baby sitters. Here is their plan and actually it sounds pretty fair to me....

    Teachers' hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work 9 or 10 months a year! It's time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do - baby sit!

    We can get that for less than minimum wage. That's right. Let's give them $3.00 an hour and only the hours they worked; not any of that silly planning time, or any time they spend before or after school. That would be $19.50 a day (7:45 to 3:00 PM with 45 min. off for lunch and plan -- that equals 6 1/2 hours). Each parent should pay $19.50 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children.

    Now how many students do they teach in a day...maybe 30? So that's $19.50 x 30 = $585.00 a day. However, remember they only work 180 days a year!!!

    I am not going to pay them for any vacations. LET'S SEE.... That's $585 X 180= $105,300 per year. (Hold on! My calculator needs new batteries).

    What about those special education teachers and the ones with Master's degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage ($7.75), and just to be fair, round it off to $8.00 an hour. That would be $8 X 6 1/2 hours X 30 children
    X 180 days = $280,800 per year.

    Wait a minute -there's something wrong here! There sure is!

    The average teacher's salary (nation wide) is $50,000. $50,000/180 days = $277.77/per day/30 students=$9.25/6.5 hours = $1.42 per hour per student--a very inexpensive baby-sitter and they even EDUCATE your kids!) WHAT A DEAL!!!!

  18. $8,000 per year pupil x 30 = $240,000.
    Divide that by 180 days and it comes out to 1333.33 per day/30=$44.44/6.5= $6.84.

    Hmmm. Nancy you have been had on this deal. You gegt $1.42/hour and the CCSD get $5.42, after paying you your salary for the priveledge of allowing you to babysit some kids.

  19. Professor Unger once again you are laboring under a misreading of my statement. In aggregate dollars the US spends more than any nation.

    In terms of higher education, your area, the US spends over $25,000 per student, by far the highest in the world. Let's see the nearest competitors are Canada and Switzerland at $22,000 per student. After that the numbers drop to about $16,000 per student and fall from there. The US spends more by far.

    As you noted the other day, the cost to educated at the post-secondary level is between $25,000-$30,000 per student per year. Looks like we are right up there, at or above the national average for all institutions. On a per GDP basis, the US is the highest.

    The k-12 numbers are not the highest in the world. In 2006, expenditures per student for the United States were $10,267 at the combined elementary and secondary level, which was 41 percent higher than the average of $7,283 for the member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reporting data

    The result is that the US spends more as a percent of GDP for all education than any nation, but Iceland. Time to get higher education costs in line with the rest of the world.


  20. Dr. Unger and Turrialba:
    You will never see eye to eye. As I said, you have diverse frames of references and there will never be a convergence.

    I want you both to understand this: We need to do something about basic education (K-12) for now. They are cutting teachers and increasing class sizes. We cannot do that! I for one knows how many kids fall behind the cracks because WE JUST CAN'T GET TO ALL OF THEM! Of the 6 1/2 hours in a school day, 1 hour goes to specials (PE, Music, Art, Library). That leaves us 5 (1/2 is lunch). In 5 hours, we are to teach Reading, Writing, Social Studies, Math, Science, Health, Computers.

    Reading and Writing is 110 minutes. We, we teach whole group skills (20 minutes), then we teach in small groups (we find this effective)- 20 minutes for a group of students needing reinforcements (medium), 20 minutes for the group needing intervention (low), and 20 minutes for the group needing extensions (high). While we are with one group, the rest of the students are doing independent work. When this is done, we gather them back as whole group for review and closure. Each small group is anywhere from 6 to 8 students. As it is now, it is extremely hard to meet with students requiring one-to-one intervention. Somehow, we are able to squeeze that in in-between periods/subjects, before school or after school.

    Increasing class size will make those small groups larger - 10 to 12 students, and the intent of teaching small groups becomes ineffective.

    It makes me mad that those who do not know anything about teaching are making decisions about education. I wish they would come and observe classrooms in my school and see what we do!

    We work our tails off every day of the week and we get $35,000-40,000, which they want to cut! So, why are they picking on teachers! Those students who cannot read or write or figure change are those who fell through the cracks! That is not our fault. It is the system. If parents cared about those kids, then they won't fall through the cracks. If politicians cared about those kids, they won't fall through the cracks. If the community cared about those kids, they won't fall through the cracks!

    Society is blaming teachers for its own indifference. Ignorant people blame teachers because, well, they are ignorant. Continue with your indifference and your ignorance and see what happens in a few decades.

    You all should be thankful there are many teachers who, despite your indifference and ignorance, are working hard to produce tomorrow's leaders. AND THEY ARE THE ONES YOU ARE PERSECUTING!

  21. A recent development in worldwide education could have some valuable lessons for Nevada. I am not advocating the use of the product, I am however advocating the expanded use of this type of teaching. Imagine 1 small group of the best first grade teachers, using a multimedia 2 way computer tablet. Books can be digitized, as can any pictures or other visual teaching aids. This automatically lowers the cost.

    On this web site, a sidebar allows you to choose which language you want to view the instructions in. A_CAT_TECH_20110329&posted=1#comments

    At first glance the idea appears simple. At second glance the teaching could have come from any language in the world for thousands of products in a multimedia form. Other countries will take a good look at this, as well as the United Nations. With mobile networks expanding into every area of the world, there is no reason why any country cannot bring the best education to it's children. Very inexpensively.

  22. Thanks Ms. Augustin for your insight.