Las Vegas Sun

November 20, 2014

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Sun Editorial:

Invest in education

Nevada needs to do more than make reforms to see schools improve

Nevada 3.0: Education

As the Legislature considers several proposals for education, the Sun asked for a variety of opinions on the state of education in Nevada. It's part of the Sun's Nevada 3.0 project, which is looking at issues confronting the state and ways to move forward. You’ll find:

• A conversation with Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction James Guthrie

• A conversation with Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones

State Sen. Scott Hammond, a public school teacher and charter school board member, writes about choices facing the state.

Dr. Sonya Douglass Horsford, the senior resident scholar on education at The Lincy Institute at UNLV, writes about a missed opportunity in Nevada.

Ruben R. Murillo, president of the Clark County Education Association, writes about what the schools need.

Judi Steele, president of the Public Education Foundation, writes about improving school leadership.

Victor Wakefield, executive director of Teach For America in the Las Vegas Valley, writes about grassroots ways to improve schools.

Another view?

Have your own opinion? Write a letter to the editor.

Nevada’s education system has been rated among the worst in the nation. In the past year alone, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s “Kids Count” report ranked Nevada last, a legislative report put the state at 48th and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave the state’s schools an F.

Nevadans have heard this before over the years from a variety of sources, including MSNBC, which ranked the state 50th in an extensive report last year, or Parenting magazine, which labeled Las Vegas the worst city in the country for education.

Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones bristles at talk about the negative rankings. His district is the nation’s fifth-largest, and with more than 70 percent of the state’s students, it is the focal point of education in Nevada.

Jones has acknowledged the problems and moved quickly to turn things around. He notes that there are some very good schools in Clark County, and there has been considerable progress since he started a little more than two years ago. This past year, for example, there were improvements in reading, writing, math and science scores across most grade levels.

Those improvements are great to see, but there is still much more to do given the deficits Jones inherited. Jones and his staff have plans that should bring more improvements, but Nevadans can’t think more gains will come easily — or cheaply. It’s going to take more money. Clark County receives the lowest amount of money from the state on a per-pupil basis.

There have already been rumblings in Carson City about school funding, and northern and rural lawmakers are concerned about Clark County getting a greater share of the tight state budget. But that misses the point.

Instead of playing around the margins, lawmakers need to confront reality: The state doesn’t spend enough on education, period.

A statement like that will grate on some education reformers who often pit reforms versus money and will argue that all the schools need to do is spend their money more wisely. Although it’s true that schools can spend money more efficiently, and Jones has made a strong push to do so, Nevada doesn’t come close to funding its education system at the national average. According to the Census Bureau, the state’s education funding is among the worst in the nation. The amount spent on instruction in Nevada is almost $2,200 less per pupil than the national average.

The state’s per-pupil funding for education has long trailed the nation. In the 2009-10 school year, the most recent year of statistics, Nevada was ranked 44th in per-pupil spending. In the 1998-99 school year, the state ranked 41st.

School critics have had a large say in the debate in Nevada, and they have worked to try to deny the need for more money. They often point to Utah, which has the lowest per-pupil spending in the nation yet sees good achievement. But the two states don’t compare.

Utah doesn’t deal with the level of special needs, such as the percentage of English language learners, or the pressures put on schools by the lack of a strong social safety net.

Compared with school districts its size, the funding disparity is clear. Clark County receives less per pupil than all but one of the nation’s 10 largest school districts.

Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed budget would add money for Nevada’s schools, primarily for early education and English language learners, and that’s a good focus and the right start. It just isn’t enough of an investment to pull Nevada up.

That’s not to say there aren’t reforms to be considered and changes to be made. There are. And any additional money has to be spent well and strategically.

But the state can only go so far with what it has, and the truth may be that Nevada has gotten what it has paid for. That can’t be good enough for Nevadans anymore.

If state leaders are serious about improving education, they need to, as the old saying goes, put their money where their mouths are and make a significant, long-term investment in the state’s schools this session.

As a state, we need to stop focusing on how to shift Nevada’s too-few education dollars around and instead figure out how to add more money to the schools.

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  1. Money available and spent is the great equalizer for education. But it's not the only one and/or the most important one. When Nevada ranks at the bottom of the heap year after year in education, it's for more than money reasons.

    CarmineD

  2. Carmine,
    You are completely wrong. There is NO reason other than lack of funding that is causing Nevada's education system to rank at the bottom every single year. In fact, I dare you to actually cite comprehensive research to prove your selfish political ideology based opinion.

    Nevada has spent 30 years shifting around an atrophied funding stream to try every "low cost or free" flavor of the week "reform" & "accountability" measure. In all that time they have refused to do the one thing that matters. Adequately fund education.

  3. Sebring,

    If is all about funding why do over 50% of the kids make it through, pass the tests and graduate?

    If the failing kids would do the same thing the passing kids do chances are they would pass also.

    Have you raised kids that went to CCSD schools? Did they pass and graduate?

  4. @judgesmales: Where in this editorial is there any mention of increasing teachers' salaries? While it's true that teachers are not pleased by the arbitrator's recent decision to allow the CCSD to ignore its longstanding, contractual agreement to reward teachers for continuing education, after many teachers spent thousands of dollars to earn the extra university credits, most teachers (and our union) have been willing to forego increased pay on the salary schedule, especially in light of the poor economy that has reduced tax revenue. Furthermore, were you to spend any time in our schools, you would see that teachers are working harder than ever before to meet the increased demand for accountability.
    Reduced revenue has resulted in fewer teaching positions and more students in every classroom, decreasing the likelihood that teachers will be able to meet the individual needs of all students. For a teacher, this is incredibly frustrating! We certainly don't choose to become teachers because we expect to get rich. We care about kids, and we want them to succeed, but legislative and administrative decisions that affect the quality of Nevada's schools are quickly moving our public school system to the breaking point. Meanwhile, we have a superintendent and seven school board trustees in Clark County who seem to believe that playing games with teachers' health insurance and continually adding new, high-dollar administrative positions while diverting scarce resources from the classroom and eliminating support specialists who work directly in our schools to provide valuable support to teachers is the answer to improving our schools. They're wrong, and so are you!

  5. First, there are 4 ways to rank a district or states education funding.

    HIGH achievement/HIGH Funding
    HIGH achievement/LOW funding
    LOW achievement/HIGH funding
    LOW achievement/LOW funding.

    The optimal is to get the best results with the least money HIGH achievement/LOW funding. That formula is different for each state and each district.

    CCSD is in the LOW/LOW. And we have been for a long time. It's the old adage, doing the same thing and expecting different results.

    One of the districts I grew up in in Massachusetts, has a 95% graduation rate with 88% of those attending a 4 year university. The per pupil expenditure from the state is $13,361 in Massachusetts. The average student teacher ratio is 14/1. The state considers it HIGH/LOW. Meaning for right now, they found the optimal funding for their high achievement.

    Nevada per pupil is $6,809 from the state with a graduation rate hovering around 65% and a average student teacher ratio of 24/1. The public can continue to say we fund high, but if the achievement isn't reflective of that, it's not true.

    Class size does matter. Parent involvement does matter. Student behavior does matter. Money does matter. But it's not 1 or the other, it's a combination of them all.

    Students fail for a number of reasons. There is no cut and dry "try harder". It needs to be try different.

    Yes, my own children go to CCSD, and yes my son will graduate this year. He has had great teachers and crappy teachers. The difference is when he had a crappy teacher, I supplemented his learning. The difference is I provide my children the background knowledge and vocabulary necessary to be successful in school. They were ready to enter kindergarten.

    77% of students entering Kinder in CCSD last year could not recognize all their uppercase letters. 88% couldn't recognize their lowercase, and 97% couldn't identify letter sounds.

    And yet, when we calculate the percentage of students who start Kindergarten in CCSD and go on to graduate from CCSD, we rank in the top 10 in the nation.

    It's time to try different. We have been short changing our kids (pun intended) for far too long. If we can graduate 66% of our students with $6,000, imagine what we can do with 10,000 or 13,000...We need to fund our education at the student need level.

  6. early childhood education produces no long term education gains and spending more money does not produce greater results.

    Why would it when you have a top down controlled uncompetitive government monopoly, where bad teachers aren't fired and innovation and differentiation is discouraged?

    What we need is school choice. All parents to choose any public or private school and let the money follow that student. For private schools we should allow parents to get a tax credit for the private school tuition and allow other people to get a tax credit for donations so low-income and special needs children get scholarships to attend private schools.

  7. Anyone who thinks we need to spend more money needs to say how much they need to do the job right. Because in a few years will we surpass that amount and little will have changed.

    You will notice the "spend more crowd" is run by intellectual cowards... they will never say how much is needed, they only say MORE. They expect everyone else to pay more money and NOT hold them accountable for decades of failure.

    We need universal school choice, we need to fire bad teachers, we need to let public schools operate as independent franchises not units of the Soviet style CCSD (top down command control).

  8. I'm weary of all the self-serving talk about vouchers and tax credits for parents who choose to put their kids in a private school. If you want to put your child in a private school, do so at your own expense. I have no interest in having my tax dollars subsidize welfare payments to people who would choose to divert scarce resources intended to provide good schools for ALL children into the bank accounts of private entities.

  9. PART 1 OF 2
    One of the greatest investments Nevada Lawmakers could impose, is by putting ENFORCEMENT TEETH in the yearly administered school document that Nevada Taxpayers pay for, the infamous PARENT/TEACHER/STUDENT INVOLVEMENT ACCORD. Last Nevada Legislative Session, Lawmakers made school administrators and teachers accountable by mandating a new evaluation. But they fell short, way short, by NOT addressing the most important part of the equation: making accountable the very students and parents regarding their behaviors, performance, and interaction with the school system that MUST serve them. IF we want to see school improvement, we must have accountability on ALL parties parts, including the students and their parent(s)/caregiver(s).

    This article's editor rightfully noted, "Utah doesn't deal with the level of special needs, such as the percentage of English language learners, or the pressures put on schools by the lack of a strong social safety net."

    The "social safety net" is the greatest factor on whether or not a child thrives, has academic and social success. An integral part of that safety net originates with the child's family, the core being the parental figure. Encompassing that core are the many who interact and support the family and child(ren), as other family members, friends, clubs, churches, and organizations.

    Public schools can not, by law, pick and choose who is served, they must enroll any who comes to their doorstep (expelled from district is the exception). But what happens when such individuals lack any interest in their own education (let alone those surrounding them in a classroom)? The old saying, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink," comes to mind. What is UNfair, is to hold educators also accountable when they have such individuals in the mix. These detractors must be dealt with on a few levels.

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  10. PART 2 OF 2 continued-
    First, identify those who are not actively involved with their education. Once the educational providers have proven attempts to redirect and set on course such individual students and their parent/caregiver, remove the nonresponsive individual from the list that teachers, administrators student from the regular classroom and school which has been affected. Don't let test scores of such individual students count against the school and its educators.

    It would serve the community of learners that want to learn well, to place educational detractors into a separate classroom or facility (facility being the better choice).

    We already have a way to ENforce, just no legal footing to do so. Every day, schools have truant officers, attendance clerks, school police, school counselors, and more, wanting, ready, but UNable to do a single thing.

    Why? Their hands are TIED!!! So what's the holdup? Nevada Lawmakers having the guts to take a stand with parent(s) and caregiver(s) in putting ENFORCEMENT TEETH in that taxpayer funded, yearly administered ACCORD!

    TAXPAYER MONEY is being wasted each and every day of the school year until Nevada Lawmakers have the courage to address student and parent/caregiver accountability in the school/educator accountability equation.

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  11. Once again, Mr. Gibbons blathers on with his rebutted "studies" and general lack of knowledge about anything that goes on in today's classrooms. He again shills for his NPRI masters, about how things would be so much better if public welfare were given to the rich in the form of vouchers, so they can further keep their kids away from "those kind." Again, he shows a complete and utter lack of reality that let him to be publicly smacked down during the last legislative hearings.

    As long as students and parents are not held accountable for their education, as long as they are told snd sold on the idea that "it's not your fault, it's those greedy teachers, as long as people are willing to rail against teachers' salaries on these forums, yet not pose ONE SINGLE WORD, when the district votes to spend a quarter million dollars on one consultant, and God knows how much on a bunch of other snake oil salespeople, This district will continue to make small gains and then stagnate for years.

    And to you, Mr. Gibbons, I challenge you to visit my school, walk through the classrooms and observe, then tell me what teachers you feel are not being innovative, fresh, and efficient in their teaching. Recently an administrator observed several schools in our area and came to a dramatic conclusion: that teachers are working TOO hard, and maybe the students should get off their butts and take an active role in their own education.. That administrator is no longer their, because the parents whined....

  12. Negative return on investment. NO MORE money. Gonna have to improve a lot to keep funding as high as it already is.

  13. What about that Henderson school with exemplary results? Good results at this level of funding. I favor school choice. I hesitate to use tax revenue but the kids get so little from a broken public K-12. Parochial schools with 60-plus students per class get better results that public K-12. Charter schools and online K-12 especially for those who have been bullied or have developmental problems. National media is saying that the projected spending in American schools exceeds the per pupil cost anywhere and everywhere else, including Switzerland. American public schools don't produce anything approaching many other schools. Longer school days, longer school years--like other nations. Get the basics. If they can't read by 3rd grade, hold them back--and I've been saying this for years. If they can't perform at grade level, hold them back. Enough of trying to shift the blame to administrators, other teachers, parents....always was and always will be many students without caring parents--and we managed to teach those kids to read and write--at least we did in the 60's, 70's, 80's.

  14. Roslenda, please get your facts straight. Concerns about student achievement in the 60's, 70's, and 80's are what led to the infamous government report, "A Nation at Risk," released in 1986 when Reagan was President. The report notes that average SAT scores dropped "over 50 points" in the verbal section and "nearly 40 points" in the mathematics section during the period 1963-1980. If this is the case, your relentless attacks on public schools, with constant inferences to your apparent notion that the problem is caused by today's "bad" teachers and throwing good money after bad simply doesn't hold up under scrutiny. In fact, Mr. Anderson, you really don't know what you're talking about, and I suspect that in reality, you simply don't want to pay more taxes... for any reason!

    Go back and read Star's comments. She has provided some accurate reasons why our students are not doing as well in school as we'd like. However, boosting student achievement is even more complex than she suggests. Our nation has continued to experience tremendous social and demographic shifts since the 1950's, and we've done little to nothing to provide the resources our schools need to contend with the issues we face. Until we do, I fear the quality of education in this nation will continue to decline.

    As for your assertion that Parochial schools are doing better with classes of 60-plus students, even if this were true, which I seriously doubt (you've failed to reference any data to support your claim), do you suppose such schools are forced to tolerate disruptive students? You're talking about students whose parents have a vested financial interest in their children's education, and poor behavior and unacceptable academic achievement is generally not an option for their children. It's quite a different story in our public schools, where we're lucky if we get a third of our students' parents to show up for an open house or parent-teacher conferences. When they do show up at school, it's too often because an administrator has issued a "required parent conference" notice, and the student cannot return to school until the conference is held. Sadly, thanks to the failing school rhetoric from the corporate educrats who hope to profit at taxpayers' expense, the media, and negative drumbeaters like you, parents are buying into the lies. As a result, I fear, REAL school improvement will never occur.

    In a few years, I suspect you'll be posting comments about how private schools are stealing your tax dollars and giving you an inadequate return on your taxpayer investment.

  15. The primary differences between public schools and private/charter/alternatives are that the latter have far more effective and efficient management structures and they have far more selective admissions policies. So long as the knowledge industry of education is managed on an antiquated industrial model it will continue to produce poor results.

  16. Brad, in all cases, the credits are lower than the cost of a public education. This means there are fewer students in public schools but more money per student.

    That said why should people be forced to pay for public schools when they want to have their children attend private schools?

  17. C'mon, your ignorance is amusing, but you should make actual counter points with citations before declaring victory. I've also been working with a different organization for the last two years. ...and I was never smacked down at the legislature lol... One stupefied that so many people think teacher training means people can actually teach...

  18. Brad, do some research and get the facts. Public K-12 cannot deteriorate much more--we're at the bottom in results but pay more than everybody else. In the 60's, 70's we got many more graduates who can read and write. Sure, the Teacher/Administrator's unions were pushing agenda even back then and cried for more money, more money, more money. We gave you more but we didn't get anything for it.

  19. Uncle and pals: The Legislature CAN cut the accruing factor for PERS pensions. It was 2.5% of high 3 year compensation and then they upped it to 2.67%. Believe they trimmed part of it to 2.6% or so. They can trim some more. It would be difficult to cut benefits already ACCRUED but there is no reason to not fix the actuarial math on accruing pensions. AND, benefits such as health care premiums can also be trimmed--although the STATE (not cities, counties, school districts) has made strides with CONSUMER-DRIVEN health care and lowered costs mucho much.
    Mr. Gibbons sounds serious here. And, not just because we seem to agree that vouchers and school choice are necessities. Me, because students have little chance in public K-12 AND the costs come down. We need to reassess our spending priorities and consider, for a change, the needs of people other than students and custodial parents. We have seniors with needs. We have single adults and couples without young kids who have lost homes, been displaced out of jobs, have no safety net beyond $20 a month in EBT food stamps. And the media has mentioned, once again, that we do little to nothing for adults with mental health issues. Waiting lists at DHHS since we don't budget well--24/7 care for a few or try something different for many more people--like residential dorms for child-free adults in transition.

  20. "C'mon, your ignorance is amusing, but you should make actual counter points with citations before declaring victory"

    It's interesting that you claim my ignorance, but have not taken the opportunity to set me straight. I seems you are out of practice twisting reality to fit your narrow view of things. Perhaps it's because you realise that I'm right about being here in the trenches, while you sit outside and pontificate your lack of understanding what really goes on in the schools. So I will pose three simple questions, that even you should be able to answer. They are simple yes or no questions (even though you are afraid to answer my simple questions, as you proved so two years ago...):

    1. Are you currently or within the last two school years (2010-11 and 2011-12) been employed by CCSD or any other state school district, as a licensed, highly-qualified teacher, and been assigned your own class or classes?

    2. Do you believe that public money should be taken from the school budget, in the form of vouchers, and given to private school, without those schools being subject to the same state regulations as public schools?

    3. Are you now or have you ever been employed by any organization, who has or does engage in the process of changing policy or law, in order to promote "school choice," "parent trigger laws," or increasing the number of private and charter schools in Nevada?

    No about the beating you took over at the Grant Sawyer biulding: When the people sitting behind you are laughing at you (myself included), because madams Loop and Kirkpatrick keep asking you easy questions, and having to stop you when you go back to your script, instead of answering their questions; When you are made to look like a blithering fool in front of about 300 people at the Grant Saywer building, and well as countless thousands via the internet; when there are articles and blogs, describing how unprepared and ineffective you were; when you have been immortalized on the internet through three different radio shows, where people emailed and called in to mock and laugh at you specifically - I think most sane people in this or any other realm of reality (other than yours, apparently)could fairly call what happened to you a smackdown...

  21. Tanker: I'm a few years out of Dpt of Education but last I heard you do NOT need a degree to become a licensed teacher in Nevada. CCSD MAY have requirements. Almost all NV SD's have substitute teachers that do NOT have degrees. There have been instances where SD's have had "clerks" teach for the duration of the "regular" teacher's pregnancy leave.
    Mr. Collins: I have been involved in State agency budget building and have drafted legislation. Not expert by any means but I've been there. If there is anything I can answer, please contact me via LVSun email. Love the commentary on giggling behind easy questions and presentations.

  22. Helloooo , education funding in this state has always taken a back seat to other programs. And yet the crooks up in Carson City will not raise the gambling tax which could really help with funding problems. Oops I didn't mean to call em crooks really I didn't.

  23. People who think vouchers are a good idea obviously have no idea how school funding works. Do you really think it costs the same to educate every student? It costs far more to educate a special needs student than it does a college bound student. It costs more to teach low achieving students than high achieving ones.

    Who exactly do you think would use the vouchers? Would private schools want low achieving/ special Ed students that cost a ton of money to educate (some special Ed students cost up to $100,000 a year to educate!)? Of course not. That's reality.

  24. Having been in the business world before going into the teaching profession, and having had my children in private school at one time (and ME paying for it), it would seem that the FAIR way to deal with the controversy of vouchers, is to allow parents who desire to educate their child at a private school, get a voucher from their neighborhood school in the amount that school spends per student, so the parent can apply such voucher to the costs of schooling at a private school. Most all private schools have strict enrollment standards and participation policies, and many will have higher fees as well. The excess in fee would have to be covered by the parent (so shop wisely).

    Commenter Jon Zetzman does raise a valid point on the exorbinent costs to educate Special Ed and low achieving students. Precious few private schools go there.

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star