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September 30, 2014

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Smaller classes not at top of Sandoval’s education agenda

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MONA SHIELD PAYNE / SPECIAL TO THE SUN

With barely enough room to pass between desks, students in Mr. Gularte’s fourth-grade class begin their morning learning in a classroom of 35 students exceeding the average of 30 students at William V. Wright Elementary School, Friday, March 22, 2013.

Crowded Classrooms

With barely enough room to pass between desks, students in Mr. Gularte's fourth-grade class begin their morning learning in a classroom of 35 students exceeding the average of 30 students at William V. Wright Elementary School, Friday, March 22, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Gov. Brian Sandoval has said his administration has two top priorities: education and economic development.

When it comes to education, Sandoval has used both the bully pulpit of his office and his budget to call for school choice, ending social promotion, expanding full-day kindergarten and improving funding for programs targeting English-language learners.

But Sandoval and his administration have been largely silent on one key issue important to education advocates, school districts and Democrats: reining in class sizes.

That’s not to say he’s ignoring it completely.

To Sandoval, class-size reduction efforts are important enough to warrant $325 million in funding for the next two years.

"In his balanced budget, the governor's commitment to K-12 education has increased spending for our schools, including $325 million in total class size reduction funds," said spokeswoman Mary-Sarah Kinner. "The governor’s budget also includes $3.5 million for class size reduction in at-risk kindergarten classrooms."

But Sandoval hasn’t championed small class sizes as a policy priority.

He decided not to mention it in his State of the State address and hasn’t sent his education officials to the Legislature with the mission of pushing class-size reduction.

Quite the opposite.

Sandoval’s education superintendent, James Guthrie, has taken a rather agnostic approach to the question, agreeing class size is important but not of such critical importance that reducing it should necessarily be prioritized over other initiatives.

Sandoval’s budget, for example, includes new money for full-day kindergarten and programs for English-language learners. His proposed funding for class-size reduction -- while hefty at $325 million -- is relatively flat compared to the last cycle and does not restore what has been cut since the economy turned sour.

“We don’t really have a dog in this fight,” Guthrie said. “This is the Legislature’s call. We put the money out there. If they choose to make it general aid, or to pass waivers around class size, that’s fine. If they choose to say to districts to reduce to 15-to-1 (student-teacher ratios) or 16-to-1, that’s fine. That’s up to the Legislature.

“That’s just not something we’re all wrapped up about.”

To some Democratic leaders in the Legislature, that sentiment is infuriating.

“What an appalling statement, that the governor does not have a dog in the fight,” Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said. “The governor has a very large dog in the fight.

“How do you not prioritize this when you know how darn big class sizes are?”

Smith said class size is the top complaint she hears from parents worried about their children’s education.

Nevada has never been very good at funding class-size reduction. Not once has the state allocated enough money for districts to reach the 15-to-1 ratio of students for each teacher in first, second and third grades set by state law.

The closest the state has come is funding 16-to-1 ratios in first and second grades and 19-to-1 in third grade.

To reach even the ratios the state conceivably funds, however, Clark County School District has routinely had to supplement the budget with its own money.

Last session, amid continuing revenue shortfalls, the Legislature gave school districts some leeway on the ratios, allowing 18-to-1 ratios in first and second grades and 21-to-1 ratios in third grade.

Even with that funding, Clark County School District can’t meet those targets. Actual class sizes in Clark County are closer to 19-to-1 in first and second grades and 22-to-1 in third grade.

The upper grades have even larger class sizes, reaching an average of 34 students per teacher.

“When you look at fourth through 12th, regular class sizes, we are not doing anything to move that one iota,” Smith said of the governor’s budget.

Democrats want to restore the $95 million that has been cut from the program since 2010. Where they would get the money is yet to be explained. And just how they would accomplish it is also up for debate.

The Democrats’ bill on class size reduction would actually increase the target ratios, recognizing that the funds just don’t exist to get to 15-to-1. That increase, however, was called a drafting error and an amendment has been introduced that would bring the ratio back down to 15-to-1.

But don’t expect the Sandoval administration to push for it.

“I’m not against small classes, it’s just not where my head is,” Guthrie said. “You can have a class of 10 with a terrible teacher, what does that do for a student? Class size may be important, but having a good teacher is even more important.”

Guthrie has questioned the extent of the problem, noting statistics on statewide averages that puts the teacher-to-students ratio at 19.4-to-1.

“The issue is how do school districts choose to allocate their money,” Guthrie said. “They have employed enough educators to run pretty small class sizes. When we hear these stories in Clark County, I’m not disputing they’re teaching 30 or 40 students in a class, but that’s a district choice.”

The average teacher-to-student ratio, however, is a much different thing than the average class size in practice.

Clark County school administrators say it’s misleading to look at that statistic. Not every teacher is in charge of the traditional classroom, due to federal, state and collective bargaining agreement restrictions.

Some teachers are in charge of small groups of special education students. Others are specialists, including art, physical education and music teachers, as well as librarians.

“So when people say ‘just do the math’ and they want to divide the number of licensed personnel, they obviously don’t understand federal law or Nevada requirements," said Joyce Haldeman, associate superintendent. "Nor are they aware of the collective bargaining agreements that put these things in place.”

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  1. What we need is a government employee salary cap .

  2. This is a classroom? LOOK at it. What ever happened to desks in a row, to an organized classroom? Hey, let's try this: Each administrator must teach at least one class or assist in at least one class each day..wouldn't that cut class size? (Plus, they would get to know the students.) I was raised with 35 classmates, and graduated with the same. Was that too many? Just askin...How about this, require parents to get involved..you know, like one day a month, give them something to do like take their kid and 4 others for an hour, just going through flash cards or something.

  3. Once you reduce or stop social promotion, watch what happens to class size then. There won't be able to build schools fast enough to hold all the kids held back for poor grades and the teaching staff will be overwhelmed. Oh, that's right. The voters were opposed to any taxes or bonds to fund new schools. It does not look good for Nevada.

  4. PART 1 of 2
    First of all, let's get a handle on the ratio of administrators per pupil in a school. Administrators are paid $100,000 a year in ballpark figures at a school, with some, a little more, some a little less. Next, how many of those administrator have actual working physical contact with students? During the reign of Supt. Jones, hundreds of regular classroom teachers left the classroom to become, you guessed it, administrators! Now, they are roaming school hallways, or popping into classrooms to "evaluate" teachers (which disrupts instruction with students curious about these invaders into their space and poking into their business).

    Shifting to higher class numbers means that Title 1 schools will have to give up Federal funds for small classrooms. It means that teachers have to do more with less. If a classroom has a disproportionate number of ELL and special ed students, learning for the remainder students is adversely impacted. If you don't understand this, please visit a Title 1 school to get the picture. Times have changed in our modern society, more children come from single parent homes where that parent may barely be involved in their child's life and education and these needy children then have to be attended by their teacher (who is NOT compensated for such services).

    Many of us grew up in a time where classroom sizes were consistently in the 30s, I did, in Compton, California. But back then, parents were involved, and administrators were able to "discipline a child with a paddle" if the child's behavior warranted it. As a consequence, there were few, if any, disruptions to classroom instruction, so students were engaged and focused on their schoolwork. Not so today.

    To compel parental/student involvement in our Nevada schools, Lawmakers need to legislate ENforcement teeth in the taxpayer funded, yearly administered, PARENT/TEACHER/STUDENT INVOLVEMENT ACCORD document that has existed for a decade now. Why not? Nevada has been at the bottom in education for that long, let's change that!

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  5. PART 2 of 2
    Choices in schools already exist: community schools, alternative education, online education, distance learning, school zone variances. Parents should be responsible about learning about their choice options and check into any of these.

    The voice and empowerment of Americans in education has become proportionate to their own involvement in education.

    A PARENT is a child's first and lifelong teacher. Too many are having children without the commitment of caring for them, nor being involved in that child's life, including school.

    In response to Commenter Ted Breslin: Stopping "social promotion" will be a wake up call to parents who are typically uninvolved and so dysfunctional that their behaviors spill into their own child's life. We can expect the first 5 years to be difficult, but not impossible to manage, as such students can be routed to alternative educational settings to "catch them up" in portable classrooms (that are currently setting empty on school property). During that time, there should be greater focus in getting that parent some help with parenting skills and how they can support their child in school, or involve social services in getting an abused child much needed help. Learning cannot happen when a child is sick, hungry, in medical need, lacking sleep, shelter, clothing, food, and positive emotional support. You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink, so if a child is highly distracted by other things, they are NOT engaged with the task before them: learning.

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  6. Commenter Tanker1975 expressed classroom size reality, and I can also state that my own son finished his schooling here in Nevada up in Northern Nevada, with the BEST educational experience possible, with outstanding results. If you want your child to have a truly "world class education" move north! With continued lack of educational funding for our schools, that is the only answer aside from private schooling or maybe home schooling.

    Tanker1975 stated, "To those of you who think that class size doesn't matter, let's look at Eureka County School District. The total enrollment for Eureka Junior/Senior High School is 115 students. A geometry clas in that school woud have less than 10 students. A similar class in CCSD would have 35+ students.

    This is from the school district website.

    Highlights:

    Eureka County School District is a small rural Nevada district of 259 students in three schools, preparing our students for the much wider world. Since 2003 our students in all three schools exceeded AYP, and in 2009 earned High Achieving status for the two elementary schools and the high school. 100% of ECSD teachers are highly qualified, and continually monitor student achievement, and strive to improve instruction of standards to promote greater student learning. We use state of the art technologies including SmartBoards and 1:1 computers. We offer a comprehensive K-12 curriculum; and we have continued after-school tutoring programs and summer school at the three schools. We continue, for a third year, a 4-day school week to improve student and teacher attendance. It has been a popular success. We have a high level of parent involvement with nearly 100% of our parents attending school activities."

    http://www.eureka.k12.nv.us/education/sc.........

    For students in middle and high school, the 4-day week fits perfectly for those who are involved with athletics or community involvement. Of course, parent involvement in the north is far greater and highly effective. There is stability and supervision on all fronts for children in the northern reaches of Nevada. There are functional, working relationships with teachers, parents, and students, and problems get dealt with and resolved immediately there. In the north, folks work as a team, in an "We're all in this together" attitude. Seriously, I could continue with all the great reasons education is better in the north, but we are here, in Southern Nevada, where reinventing the wheel at a high cost to taxpayers seems to be the norm. It doesn't have to be that way.

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  7. Top PRIORITY: Longer school day and longer school year.

  8. Class size: that's a factor of how many raises teachers and administrators get. Stop paying more for less and the money goes further. Arbitrators and contract negotiators have FAILED TO RECOGNIZE that K-12 funding is not infinite. Our economy is not infinite and cannot support an ever-expanding share of the GDP. The entire SD budget must cover school construction, building repairs/maintenance, utilities, BOOKS, supplies, and compensation NOT JUST COMPENSATION.

  9. Big difference in class size (averaging in Band and Assembly) to student:teacher ratio. CCSD has about 14,500 licensed teachers versus 330,000 or so students. That's an average of a teacher for every 22 3/4 student. That AIN'T BAD.

  10. Star: There are elementary schools in WCSD with more than 90% illegal students--parents are NOT involved.

  11. Classroom size is basically a myth perpetrated by the teachers and their organizations. The teachers already work a very short work day (9-2); get 4 months or more off each year; and generally have very easy hours. Yes, they help to teach our kids, but we all know a lot of the burden falls on the parents. The parents plan for them 24 x 7 and do a remarkable job; a job that most teachers do not even want to admit they do. The teachers and schools of education did this study on classroom size.

    Per the teachers, classroom size was too large. They used all types of "moral" arguments - lilke they watched the kids. They really were selfishly driven. Why should then give up an hour or two a night to grade papers? They were of at 2:00 and by golly that was already too much work for part time employees who get full time wage -wages that are higher than many people get who actually have to be creative each and every day of their lives at hard jobs.

    The teachers did this as they were selfish - they then got computers. But most of the teachers were illiterate on the computer so did not design easily graded homework. This is where computers shine. And even most casino workers have higher skill set on computers than our lazy corrupt teachers.

    They then said - we need to hire expensive computer techs as we do not even know how to plug them in.

    And then they say MORE MONEY - we NEED smaller class sizes. We NEED TO RAPE SENIORS for more money as our part time jobs are so hard now. We need small small classes -They never thought to realize that successful people went to classes when they were a kid had over 40 students in them. And every kid in the class learned social skills; education skills; and so much.

    Teachers whine today as they are part time workers with a lazy mind set. In short, don't buy the dribble about classroom size. it has absolutely nothing to do with school success. Its just that our uneducated teachers, who are computer illiterate, are wanting part time jobs at full time pay

    And the newspwpers support them - all because they think its for our kids. When its not - its for the stupid teacher.

    and teachers - you know that is truth.

  12. Comment removed by moderator. Name Calling

  13. 85% of all Nevada revenue comes from Vegas. That's right. Vegas pays the bills. Our labor, our skills, our industry produces for the REST Nevada. Every other part of Nevada - and the other 16 school districts owe ALL or nearly ALL of their distributive schools account money to Vegas. Thank you liberal Vegas for always thinking of everyone else - first. 25% of the students outside of Vegas receive 50% of the money. Vegas provides 85% of the revenue and receives back 50% for public schools? Is this equitable?

    I can think of so many ways to improve Vegas schools with an additional 35% of the DSA.

    75% of all student and teachers work and live in the Vegas community. Yep, Nevada is now an urban state. Populated in the south. When a decision maker in Reno produces legislation meant to "reform" schools in Reno - this inadvertently causes great trauma in Vegas - where nearly all of Nevada citizens live. Rather than legislating for the rural communities - Vegas needs to starts legislating as a urban state because this is where the people live.

    Unfortunately for Vegas, the Northerners have stacked the deck. It's called the "Nevada Plan" or the "Northern Scam". That's right. The Governor and legislators allow them to take the funds and put them in a general fund. Then Vegas - who provides more than enough - gets to beg for our own money to help our own schools?

    Meanwhile, I have listened to testimony after testimony this legislative session by superintendents in other parts of Nevada extolling the virtues of their public schools, their full day Kindergartens, their extra tutoring programs, their stable and motivated communities. They are well funded. Outside of Vegas - many parts of Nevada have NOT experienced the recession in the devastating manner Vegas has.

  14. Vegas is a transient difficult to educate community. A plethora and diverse assortment of people live, work, move, move, move from place to place in this urban city. Two-thirds of all the children in Vegas are living in poverty. At least 95,000 are English Language Learners. And our children are failing.

    I would like to try this. Vegas money stays in Vegas. We fund our schools at the levels that Eureaka, Elko, Winnemucca, Lovelock have been able to procure with the help of our generous city. I would like our legislators to FIGHT for their own. Our children are behind - this is a fact. Our schools are starving - this is also a fact.

    I would like to try to fund the class size reduction required by law - with Vegas money instead of sending it North. I would like to try early intervention - with Vegas money instead of sending it North. I would like to try to FUND reform - instead of commanding and demanding more and more on the labor - with Vegas money instead of sending it North.

    AND I would like to see the Northerners live within their means - if that means they have to elect officials that will raise revenue instead of starve their schools, that would not make me unhappy. It might also mean that the Governor might need to rethink his agenda - if the schools near his house were not subsidized so heavily with Vegas funds.

    I would definitely not be unhappy if the North had to participate in requiring International Mining Corporations to provide their fair share. Imagine what our state would be like if this $8 BILLION a year industry were required to do the same as. . . gaming? Only a few counties receive any mining proceeds money - and I notice their schools are excellent.

    Pay your own bills Northerners. Vegas money needs to stay in Vegas. Our schools and kids need it and deserve it - it was earned here - it should stay here. And my 65 students in my at-risk neighborhood and their families thank you too.

  15. "What we need to do is expel the illegals."

    Except for that silly little law that says that schools MUST accept school age children, regardless...That's the part right-wing nutjobs like Andrew forget. Especially the part where it was republicans who insisted on that provision of the law.....

  16. @Roslenda...

    "Teachers whine today as they are part time workers with a lazy mind set. In short, don't buy the dribble about classroom size. it has absolutely nothing to do with school success. Its just that our uneducated teachers, who are computer illiterate, are wanting part time jobs at full time pay."...

    As long as this kind of mind-numbingly ignorant thinking exists in the minds of Nevadans, there will be no escape from the bottom of the scrap heap.

  17. Part 1 of 2:
    To Commenter ImproveLV, on the statement, "I've always been a proponent of smaller class sizes. It seemed obvious to me that it would have a positive impact. I recently met with some educators from different parts of the world, and most of them felt that small class sizes weren't that important. They felt like the individualized attention trains the students to depend on learning in a certain way, whereas large class sizes force kids to become independent learners."

    I tend to agree with that statement with some reservations, ImproveLV. It is true about the hazard of causing students to become more dependent, instead of them owning their learning, and taking the initiative. We want to support in the right way. When we discuss class size, we also must talk about the diversity and challenges in classes we compare. In classes back in the 1960s, you did not have any Special Education students in those classrooms, as such students attended a separate school. Neighborhood mortgages back then, were also a type of filter, so that like households were in that schools population. One would have to drive miles to find a school that was "mixed". Our class sizes back then numbered in the mid 30s, and students behaved, were respectful, or faced going to the Principal's office and having "swats" administered to their bottoms. Needless to say, there was rarely discipline problems. School PTA Bazaars, bicycle safety rodeos, scouts, were the things, besides being neighborly, that kept us out of troubles growing up. Our classroom was packed.

    When I attend class reunions, I note that the majority of my classmates while growing up, are mostly professionals, either owning businesses, having corporate careers, or are in public service careers. ALL work/or worked (I am in my 50s).

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  18. Part 2 of 2:

    For Commenter Roberta Anderson: CCSD is a huge, metropolitan district, compared to WCSD, which is located in the rural outskirts of the state and in a much smaller city, with smaller neighborhoods. Just by virture of perimeter wildernesses, do parents have to keep track of their kiddos. The snows also compel folks to work together as well. Life is different there. Slower pace. More cooperative. Much different culture.

    Over the years, I have taught in all class size situations. Just provide the necessary books,whiteboards, overhead, paper, computers, pencils, materials and have my back when it comes to discipline. As a professional teacher, I can make it work. But subtract any necessary listed item, and I cannot guarrantee absolute student success.

    And for the record, those critics of educators could take a trip to their neighborhood school and take a look at the "After hours sign in log" to ascertain how "lazy" and "greedy" teachers are. All those hours are NOT compensated, and rarely, if ever, complimented or appreciated. It is done because professional teachers do care.
    Do YOU do such things where YOU work?

    Right on, Gmag39, can we use "Nevada" and "thinking" in the same sentence with some of these comments?

    We all want a better world for ourselves and the children of our homes, state, and country, whose futures depend on us doing the right thing, paid to do it or not paid. ALL of us. Thank you.

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  19. There is NOTHING in statute that says we must educate illegals. It was a SCOTUS decision that went against precedent. The Kin Wong Scott decision in 1896 or so decided that an Asian student who WAS BORN HERE had to be allowed to attend public K-12. Our SD's and AG have REFUSED TO PERFORM their obligations to taxpayers and have not taken the issue of ILLEGAL students to SCOTUS. Further, there is no requirement that we feed, house, cloth, medicate.....and drain our government agencies / services so that we cannot care for our own. American seniors are cold, hungry and without medication so that illegal students can have "personal attention" from K-12 teachers. Free bus tickets south (from non-profits) should be the only social welfare we provide illegals. We simply cannot afford or sustain this.

  20. Society has grown and evolved, ManfromUncle1! When California turned into one continuous urban sprawl due to UNsustainable overpopulation, and I love my wide open spaces ( I'm a horse and critter person), it was time to pull up stakes and move on. One deciding factor to leave, was the "gangsta" ghetto mentality that was taking over the youth population there, which I found to be highly disrespectful, and promoting crime, drugs, and obtaining money by any means. It was NOT what I wanted my children to be around nor emulate nor become, so to Northern Nevada we went.

    Years later, I also decided to pull out all my CalSTRS funds, feeling uncomfortable with some of their newer policies. Seems like my gut instincts were on to something.

    Five years ago, my class size at a Title 1 School was workable, with children consistently growing, meeting, or exceeding standards (the ones who didn't, usually moved into our school right before testing-UGH). Now, with MORE students, it is a real challenge because of more ESL students(with NO ELL Specialist for support), more special ed students(with minimal contact time by resource), and more administrative demands. It is quite discouraging. This school year, I have witnessed several of my colleagues leaving, or planning to leave the profession.

    There are so many reasons why our nation, its systems, its schools are failing. Corruption, special interests, greed and corporate take over fall into the blame category. The selfish "ME" generation has sucked the love and life out of the things we Americans hold dear. We must muster up the courage to strengthen what remains and improve upon it, if what we hold as American to survive.

    Illegal immigration MUST END. All who come to America, need to do so LEGALLY, or leave. Our American infrastructure can no longer adequately care for its citizens, and this is morally and ethically wrong.

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star