(Jim Clark) – Last fall, Nevada gubernatorial candidates Brian Sandoval, Republican, and Rory Reid, Democrat, were on the opposite sides of most issues. The glaring exception was education reform, where both candidates advocated similar, detailed, and comprehensive programs to bring Nevada public education into the 21st century. Both proposals were modeled largely after the successful education initiatives started in Florida in 1999 by then-Governor Jeb Bush.
The major elements were: a clear system of grading schools A through F; an end to social promotion; merit pay for teachers; an end to teacher tenure; teacher promotions/reductions based on competence, not seniority; eliminating teacher salary step increases based on advanced education/degrees, and an open enrollment system that lets kids attend schools outside their neighborhood. Additionally, Sandoval advocated a universal system of school choice through a voucher plan (called: “Economic Development through Great Education” or EDGE) that was not in Reid’s proposal because the powerful Nevada teacher union despised that element most of all.
Gov. Sandoval handily won the election and has made it clear that his education reform proposals were not just election “puffery.” In fact, the dramatic gains in Florida student achievement over the last decade have New Mexico, Utah, Indiana, Arizona, and Louisiana, as well as Nevada, implementing educational initiatives pioneered in Florida. In 1998, that state had the fifth worst test scores in America. By 2007, Florida 4th- and 8th-graders equaled or exceeded average nationwide test scores and Latino students were on a par with their peers. The achievement gap appears to be a thing of the past in the Sunshine State.
Last Friday, was a legislative deadline in which measures that had not passed their house of origin and been sent to the other chamber died for this session. Many of the Sandoval reforms fell into that abyss, although some survived with Democratic support. And, like Lazarus, many “dead” Sandoval initiatives may be resurrected as riders to other measures in the rough-and-tumble of the final days of the legislative session.
Gov. Sandoval’s ardor for educational reform is based on his belief that a one-size-fits-all monopolistic system of public education is unsuitable for a significant minority of the student population, and that the more educational choices parents and students have, the greater likelihood of a fit. The current edition of the Northern Nevada Catholic Magazine features Gov. Sandoval, a Bishop Manogue graduate, handing Bishop Randolph Calvo a proclamation declaring Catholic Schools Week. Immediately below was a research report showing Reno Catholic students scoring 32% to 64% higher than public school students on the Stanford Achievement Test.
Bonanza readers can get a microcosmic glimpse of what education reform might bring by visiting the eLearning Café in the Raley’s Center adjacent to Azzara’s Restaurant. eLearning is a non-profit formed to nurture any and all Incline/Crystal Bay students who wish to supplement or dig deeper into their subjects, get help with problem areas, make up classes or courses, earn extra credit, etc. Set in a comfortable and inviting private club environment and open from 7:00 AM to 10:00 PM, eLearning’s current offerings include: online courses, Wi-Fi, virtual classes, after school study, assessment and tutoring, foreign language, computer training, test preparation and, as if that weren’t enough, Mensa games. This summer, biology, algebra, geometry, and writing classes will be offered.
The eLearning Café is the epitome in miniature of Gov. Sandoval’s school choice pledge to voters. Maybe he should drop by so he can visualize the fruits of his endeavors.
(Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates, a vice chair of the Washoe County GOP and a member of the Nevada GOP Central Committee.)