(Jim Clark) – What does the future hold for K-12 education in the Silver State? Can Governor-elect Sandoval implement a plan to improve student achievement and still come up with a balanced budget?
The Sandoval education plan acknowledges that Nevada has the lowest graduation rate in the US and proposes the following measures to improve:
(1) an end to teacher tenure and social promotion,
(2) a reward system for good teachers and good schools,
(3) expanded school choices including virtual and distance learning,
(4) local control over funding,
(5) a Nevada Charter School Institute to approve new charters, (6) grading of schools as we grade students,
(6) reformed teacher licensure laws to allow more professionals to teach,
(7) school vouchers,
(8) expanded empowerment, magnet, career and technical schools and
(9) privatizing non-educational services.
Sandoval has tapped Washoe School Board President Estela Gutierrez and Superintendent Heath Morrison for his transition team as well as the president of the Clark County School Board.
Can these measures really turn Nevada’s intractable public school bureaucracy around and improve student performance and graduation rates? Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI), in conjunction with the Goldwater Institute of Arizona, recently published the results of an exhaustive study of K-12 education in Florida, a state with approximately the same demographic characteristics as Nevada.
The study begins in 1998 when Jeb Bush ran for governor of Florida on a platform of K-12 education reform. His plan: real standards of accountability, school choice options, an end to social promotion, instructional reforms including teacher licensure laws, and vouchers or scholarships for students in failing schools. Hmmm. Sounds a lot like the Sandoval Plan. Did it work?
In 1999 the Florida Legislature enacted the Jeb Bush reforms. The NPRI study tracked student performance on the 4th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NEAP) reading examination scores because comprehension in the early years is critical to future academic success. Beginning in 1998 the average score of all Nevada and Florida students on the NEAP reading exam was exactly the same . . . 206. By 2007 the average of all Nevada students was 211 (a 2% improvement) while the average of all Florida students was 224, a 9% improvement. More dramatic was the difference in Florida Hispanic students, an increase from 198 to 218, and Florida African American students, an increase from 186 to 208. In other words by 2007 Florida minority students were scoring equal to or better than the average of all Nevada students (and those of 14 other states).
The NPRI study goes into some detail examining other factors that could have affected the results and concludes increased student achievement was the result of the reforms. One interesting byproduct of the alternative teacher credentialing reform has been a dramatic increase in the number of minority teachers (24.8% in Florida versus only 8.9% in Nevada). One researcher found a direct correlation between student performance and alternative teacher credentialing programs.
Sandoval’s education plan should also help his budget. Charter schools are less expensive than traditional schools because taxpayers do not pay for their buildings; virtual and distance education is extremely cost-efficient and flexible; an influx of teachers under reformed credentialing could temper teacher union wage and benefit demands; and local control over funding should assure that funds are well-spent.
Hopefully by the end of Sandoval’s second term Nevada will be pushing the top ratings in educational attainment among the states.
(Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates, a vice chair of the Washoe County GOP and a member of the Nevada GOP Central Committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)