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March 6, 2015

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Secretary of Education: ‘We have to look for radical change’

Economy dependent on improved performance of schools, Duncan says


Sam Morris

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan answers a question during a town hall-style meeting about education Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011, on the CSN Cheyenne campus.

Education Town Hall

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan talks with CSN education student Carmen Colosimo after a town hall-style meeting about education Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011, on the CSN Cheyenne campus. Launch slideshow »

The key to economic recovery is improving the quality of the education system, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told nearly 500 people at a town-hall meeting Tuesday morning in Las Vegas.

“We have to educate our way to a better economy,” said Duncan, former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools system. “In a competitive, knowledge-based economy, jobs are going to go where the knowledge workers are ... We can’t teeter around the edges; we have to look for radical change.”

Duncan, who has been hosting a number of town hall-style discussions on social media networks and across the country, was one of several panelists in the hourlong town-hall meeting — Education and the Economy: Investing in our Future — at the College of Southern Nevada’s Cheyenne campus.

Other panelists included Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones, Clark County Education Association President Ruben Murillo, recently retired Pastor Calvin Rock of Abundant Life Seventh Day Adventist Church, Chairman of the Board of the Latin Chamber of Commerce Luis Valera and Elaine Wynn, national chairwoman for Communities in Schools and co-chairwoman of the Greater Las Vegas After School All-Stars.

Gov. Brian Sandoval also was present, as well as School Board members, other local government officials, community activists and students.

Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich moderated the discussion, which focused on how community groups — businesses, schools, religious organizations, nonprofits and government leaders — can help improve education, and in tandem, the economic prospects of Nevada’s students.

The discussion comes as Nevada enters its fifth year of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The state suffers from high unemployment, bankruptcy and foreclosure rates, and was recently ranked last in the nation for job opportunities.

“The challenges are real,” Duncan said. “It’s tough to get better without a lot more money, but we can’t use that as an excuse. There’s only one chance to get a good education, whether it’s good economic times or bad economic times.”

The recession has forced Las Vegas to focus on education, Jones said. With scarce resources, however, the Clark County School District is struggling: programs cut, positions shed and class sizes ballooning. The School District is looking to fund “reforms” that show a return on investment, Jones said.

“We’re focused not on programs but on teachers and leaders,” Jones said. “At the end of the day, the teacher in front of the 30 kids has the most dramatic impact.”

Murillo, whose union represents about 18,000 teachers in Clark County, said he expects the union to be a part of the conversation about the new education reforms being discussed. But without more education funding, “our hands are tied,” he said.

“We have to find a stable source of revenue,” he said. “We can’t depend on one or two industries to be the backbone of our education funding.”

The School District and its teachers union are entering arbitration over teacher contract negotiations. Murillo, who sat beside Jones on the panel, said that although the groups disagree on some issues, they share similar goals in educating students for a better future.

Wynn, who was honored this year for her work in education, said she hopes for more public-private partnerships and nonprofit groups to step up to help students not only in the classroom but at home.

“If (students) are hungry, poorly clothed or not feeling well because of problems at home, even the best of teachers and principals are challenged,” said Wynn, who chairs two education nonprofit groups in Nevada. “We need to coordinate services and leverage the delivery of them so that young people are able to receive the education they need.”

Valera, who was recently placed on the state committee of economic development, said a better education system and a better-educated workforce would help in recruiting new businesses to Nevada. Economic diversification — which has been bandied about even before the recession — is more important than ever, he said.

Also important is integrating Nevada’s growing Hispanic population into its workforce.

In 2009, the School District became a minority-majority district, and recent census figures showed Hispanic students outnumbered white students in Nevada this year. Valera reiterated his support for the Dream Act, which would allow children of undocumented immigrants to pursue higher education opportunities, enlist in the military and apply for permanent residency.

“We have a responsibility to absorb this group into our economy, higher education and workforce,” Valera said. “It’s fascinating how people can demonize an entire people who are only trying to pursue their American dream.”

In the last minutes of the discussion, audience members were allowed to ask questions of the panelists.

Gary Peck, the executive director of the Nevada State Education Association, raised concerns about how the School District plans to integrate the growing Latino population when some English Language Learner teachers have been eliminated.

“We’re cutting those positions at precisely the moment in time there’s a spike in that student population,” Peck said. “I’m deeply troubled by all of that because of the implications it has on our state and our ability to compete in the global economy.”

CSN’s student government President Aimee Riley — who also chairs the Nevada Student Alliance that represents all Nevada higher education students — said the discussion was helpful, but it seemed like it was “for show.”

The 32-year-old communication student who has two children in the School District said she is worried about rising tuition costs and education and economic opportunities for herself and her children.

“We need more money,” she said. “We need to implement more taxes, even though it’s a dirty word in Nevada. It’s surprising it’s such an ongoing fight to validate higher education funding in Nevada.”

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  1. Hope they video-taped this Education Town Hall Meeting for those who were unable to attend. By doing this, it will continue to serve the COMMUNITY it serves, and not be limited to just those present.

    One thing that has become very clear, is that the child's FIRST TEACHER needs to also be involved in this educational process, and it continues to be a major obstacle. Our LAWMAKERS are not helping matters either, when in the 76th Nevada Legislative Session in February, 2011, they DID NOT put any enforcement teeth into the mandated yearly PARENT/TEACHER/STUDENT INVOLVEMENT ACCORD/CONTRACT, that taxpayers continue to foot the bill!

    This document comes with all the beginning of the year paperwork for each and every child that all parties must read, discuss, and sign. It includes the commitment of the parent/guardian/caregiver to monitor a child's homework, schoolwork, elements that affect a child's school performance as adequate care in diet, rest, games, etc.

    It is not acceptable for educators to throw their hands into the air expressing, "Our hands are tied." This process we call education, is a group effort. Budget or no budget, it is the absolute responsibility for the parent to be actively involved with their child's education, and Nevada continues to see problems in this area. Educators are highly trained and ready to roll, but are the parents? Time to brainstorm towards efforts to foster enhanced parent involvement with their child's education---that is where Nevada needs to be directing their efforts.

    Blessings and Peace,

  2. Our educational system is prehistoric. School districts seem to think if they beat on teachers more, control the curriculum without the input of educators, ignore the changing face of how children learn and require massive amounts of time "assessing" i.e. testing, our system will improve.
    Teachers no longer teach your child. They no longer have the option of teaching the student. They teach the curriculum. If your child is not developmentally ready to learn they are placed in a "yellow" or "red" zone and placed in remedial groups.
    Children are considered failures as early as kindergarten. When will this insanity end?
    Effective teachers are not ones who prepare your children for tests. Effective teachers realize a subject can be taught in more than one way and they do it. School districts don't allow that anymore.
    Parents don't get it. Look at the curriculum materials. Go sit in a classroom for a day. Get involved. It really does take a village not just the worker bees.

  3. So, Nevada had this big meeting at taxpayer expense. All the mukymuks were there - Governor, Sec. of Education, CEO and Board Chair of Clark Co. Schools, an eminent pastor, etc. Here's what they said:
    Sec. Duncan - need radical change to improve school performance.
    Everybody else - need more money to change.
    Result - zero/nada. Who pays these guys? Not a word about overhauling the system and doing more with less. Not a word about eliminating the factory model school that the vast majority of Nevada high schoolers attend and replacing it with something more attuned to the needs of the information economy. Not a word about changing the governance of schools to make them more accountable to the parents (elementary and middle schools) and employers (secondary schools and colleges. Just more of the same. Gosh, Nevadans are boring.

  4. Mr. Chapline, the document I have referenced exists, you only need to contact a local Clark County School District school, if you are here in Las Vegas, and request the PARENT/TEACHER/STUDENT INVOLVEMENT ACCORD. In this last State of Nevada, 76th Legislative Session, this involvement accord was passed into LAW, however, it is all words, and there is NO enforcement teeth behind it(which is a huge complaint by many, if not most educators.)

    For your information: all TITLE 1 Schools MUST have this document on file, having teachers go over them with parent and student during the December Parent/Teacher Conferences (even though they were also given this copy at the beginning of the year with all the zillions of papers they must fill out and return completed in the Fall). These documents are subject to audit. So there is NOT much choice involved here: teachers must administrate and account for this document of which the Parent, Student, and Teacher sign and it is filed. This is not something I have have dreamed up, Sir. To my knowledge, and with the colleagues I have spoken with, this document is in use throughout the State of Nevada. Please accept my apologies if I was unclear about this document.

    Also during the 76th Legislative Session, Nevada took steps to curb Bullying, by passing laws as well. They do have some enforcement teeth and are currently being rolled out and implemented at all schools.

    For children to thrive they need our support in every way possible.

    My heartfelt appreciation to those who graciously clarified my statements. YOU are wonderful folk, and it is truly an honor to be amongst you here.
    =) Star

  5. For Mr. Chapline: Sir, I thoroughly understand your distress, and I too, had at one time, utilized alternative schooling for my own children in Christian education, until there was a time it was no longer possible. In my frustration with the established systems dictated by the US Department of Education, I personally changed my career course and began teaching in PUBLIC education offered at our neighborhood schools. It was an absolute heart wrenching decision for me at the time.

    While some may wish to villify me along with other teachers, I wholeheartedly walk my talk, and enthusiastically teach a rigorous program engaging students and motivating them to challenge themselves, their environment, and to believe in themselves. At times, I get flack for setting high expectations and for setting high standards. I view these students as capable, and work with them individually, nurturing them towards their own personal success. I do exactly what I have expected my children's own teachers to do, and I value every precious minute of instructional time I have with my students.

    What our nation is experiencing in education is the evolution of corruption by those who are powerful, affording lobbyists, and able to gain commercially from insider deals. Just follow the money trail, and you will discover that a few billionaires are strongly influencing educational policy and function.

    Check out Joanne Barken, regarding the influence of these billionaires in the Winter Dissent:

    The little guy citizen simply doesn't stand a chance anymore sadly. And this is frustrating for most of us in a time as we witness the demise of both education and our nation.

    Blessings and Peace,