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September 30, 2014

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Nevada 3.0 - The state of education:

Striving to provide quality choices for students

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:

• The Sun’s editorial, "Invest in schools"

• A conversation with Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction James Guthrie

• A conversation with Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones

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.

I remember as a sophomore in high school expressing to my biology teacher the hope I had to someday become a teacher myself. A lot has changed since that day in biology class, but what hasn’t changed is my passion for learning and for teaching.

Now, 14 years after my first day in the classroom, I’m honored to fight for a quality education in our schools through four distinct, but equally important, roles: as a parent; as a Clark County School District teacher; as a founding board member for Somerset Academy, a high-performing charter school in Las Vegas; and as a state senator.

I take all four jobs very seriously.

As a father, I know that my daily involvement in my kids’ education is paramount to their success in school and that I can be a vocal advocate in their school and in our community.

As an educator, I must take an active role in my students’ lives to ensure that they not only learn the material I’m teaching so they can make it to graduation day but also that they acquire the skills to be successful in college and beyond.

As a charter school board member, I need to help ensure that the choice we’re offering parents is a quality one that opens additional doors to students who might not otherwise receive the educational opportunities they deserve.

But my newest job — that of serving the people of the 18th Senate District — offers the greatest opportunity to not only change the lives of my own children and my own students, but of students all across our great state.

Nevada has made great progress to improve our education system over the past few years. Thanks to the leadership of Gov. Brian Sandoval and legislators on both sides of the aisle, we have put into place laws that ensure evidence of student growth is a key factor in teacher and principal evaluations, and laws that give effective teachers — even those with less seniority — a chance to continue teaching even when district budgets are tight and require tough staff cutbacks. Parents also now have more quality choices in determining where to send their children to school, thanks to our efforts to expand and improve our public charter schools. The future hope is to continue to allow parents greater access to technical schools, private schools and any other form of education delivery.

But we can’t stop there. Not when the data show that far too many of our students are still falling through the cracks.

According to a report released last fall by the U.S. Department of Education, Nevada has the lowest high school graduation rate of any state in the nation; in that report, the Silver State showed the nation’s second-largest graduation rate gap between black and white students.

Another report released this year by StudentsFirst ranked Nevada 21st in the nation in terms of having policies in place that ensure every student has the chance to learn and thrive in a strong educational environment.

Clearly, we cannot rest; we must continue the fight to ensure that every one of our kids attends a good school, is taught by a highly effective teacher, and has the opportunity to succeed and thrive after graduation.

Teachers like me have an important role to play in this effort. For example, implementation of the so-called “Common Core Standards” means big changes are already under way in our classrooms, particularly when it comes to the way we teach mathematics and English language arts. But beyond that, we must also join the broader coalition of education activists who continue to seek opportunities to improve our state-level policies so that they provide the structure and accountability — but also the freedom — at the local level to do what’s best for our kids.

That’s why, in the legislative session that has just gotten under way, I plan to work with a diverse group of stakeholders who share my commitment to education. Whether it’s organizations like Parent Revolution and StudentsFirst, or our great teachers who are working very hard and parents who are similarly focused on improving educational outcomes, we all recognize that improving our education system is not only an economic imperative but a moral one as well.

I have always believed that a good education is the cornerstone of a thriving community — and that’s my ongoing commitment to my constituents and to my community in the years ahead. After all, my job in the classroom may have begun 14 years ago, but my responsibility to engage in this fight will continue for a lifetime.

State Sen. Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, represents District 18.

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  1. The fact that Hammond cites the already debunked StudentsFirst, based only on how easy it is to start up chains of charter schools, and not a legitimate ranking system of quality shows that he has little understanding of how to improve our state's education systems. It should come as no surprise that the nations school districts that ranked the poorest on StudentsFirst's ranking are also the highest ranking in real quality measures.
    In this regard, Nevada should be striving to be the lowest ranked state on Michelle Rhee's ideology based StudentsFirst ranking rather than the highest.