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October 25, 2014

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EDITORIAL:

You want a better Nevada? It starts with our schools

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Any discussion about improving Nevada’s economy must begin with a discussion about our education system.

It is that simple. There is no question that our struggling schools have frightened off businesses that might otherwise locate here because of the benefits Nevada has to offer. But because of our poor national ranking in education, companies and startups are looking elsewhere — so they can find properly trained employees and because they want the best schooling possible for their own children. We come up short on both. Brookings Mountain West has linked quality education with economic success, and it’s a formula that just makes common sense. This election year, candidates and voters must talk about fixing our schools. It is imperative. We know there’s no magic bullet to fix education, but here are a few things public schools need to succeed.

Innovation

Clark County has experimented with empowerment schools, giving more money and authority to principals on those campuses. That makes sense, and the concept appears to be showing some fruit. The idea shouldn’t be limited to a few schools. Teachers and principals across the district need the freedom to innovate and address individual student needs. They also need support, including training and encouragement, and the freedom to fail should a good idea fall flat.

Money

No, throwing money at a problem doesn’t solve it, but that’s not the issue here. The state doesn’t provide an adequate amount of money for education, and that’s clear in study after study. Consider: Nevada spent $7,582 per pupil in the 2011 school year, the lowest in the nation, according to the National Education Association. That’s well below the national average of $11,871. For schools to achieve, they need resources.

A strong beginning

Studies show that student achievement begins early, but Nevada hasn’t laid a strong foundation for student achievement. The state must improve early childhood education initiatives, such as Head Start, and expand full-day kindergarten. Programs like these make a difference.

Smaller class sizes

Our classrooms are distinguished — for being crowded. Year-round calendars are being adopted at many of our schools as a way to shrink class sizes. Numerous studies have shown the link between smaller class sizes and better student achievement — it’s a no-brainer — and state lawmakers need to keep funding class-size reduction efforts.

Accountability

Educators should be held accountable for what they can control, but too often they have become the fall guys in the education debate, given unachievable goals. A one-size-fits-all standard won’t work in a district that has a sizable population of students who need remedial work. Still, the schools need a standard of excellence, and every classroom deserves a good teacher. Administrators should have the ability to remove underperforming and unfit teachers from the classroom.

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