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Sun Editorial:

Getting education right

Finger-pointing fails to move public schools toward improvement

Fri, May 11, 2012 (2 a.m.)

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Clark County School District officials are due to present a revised budget next week, reworking numbers after an arbitrator ruled in favor of the teachers in a contract dispute.

The dispute was over a provision that provides automatic salary increases for teachers who completed extensive coursework in education at a personal cost to them of up to $10,000. The district said it couldn’t afford the step increases and wanted the arbitrator to allow it to quit paying. The teachers said the district had the ability to pay, and the arbitrator agreed.

Superintendent Dwight Jones has said the arbitrator’s decision will force cuts, and he expects teachers to be laid off to make ends meet.

The situation has caused quite a stir in education circles, opening up the broader discussion about the quality of the schools. The tone of the discussion has been marked up with shallow stereotypes and finger-pointing from all sides. It’s kind of like a bad multiple choice question.

All of the problems in education can be blamed on (choose one):

a. greedy teachers;

b. greedy unions;

c. bloated administration and “educrats”;

d. lazy students;

e. absentee parents;

f. bad policy and poor funding.

You can put your pencils down. The topic of improving education won’t be easily boiled down in a multiple choice question. It’s too complex. And it’s unfair to single out and vilify a single group of people, like teachers or parents, and blame them for the state of education. Not only does that do a terrible disservice those blamed, including the good teachers and parents, but it also misses the point: If there’s blame to be assigned, there’s plenty to go around.

Although the teachers are in the classrooms doing the hefty work of education, everyone, from the taxpayers to the Legislature, plays some role in Nevada’s education system and bears some responsibility. Taxpayers, for example, not only pay for the schools, but they also elect the people who set the policies and oversee them.

More so, the broad brushes used to describe participants in this debate fail to take into account several problems and overshadow the work being done by many people — from classroom teachers to elected officials — who are trying to improve the schools.

It’s not an easy task. For years, the state has failed to see the type of achievement anyone would like and progress has been sluggish. Part of the issue is that the state hasn’t adequately invested in education. Not that funding is, in itself, the answer. It matters how the money is spent, and accountability is vitally important. Additionally, policy goals have often changed, and not always for the better. The federal No Child Left Behind Act, for example, and its one-size-fits-all approach set goals that were unrealistic and often didn’t help promote student achievement.

For the schools to improve, it’s going to take a commitment of time, money and effort. It’s also going to take people moving toward a united goal of improving public education, not tearing it and those involved in it down.

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Discussion: 7 comments so far…

  1. Where much of this starts, is in the conference rooms where leaders PLAN to provide a service, and then coordinate efforts in implementing these services. Step by step. Back to the very basics. We have a community of people, who need roads, protections, services, libraries, schools, etc.

    Somewhere in that chain of command, there was some planning that was misguided, to get to where we are today. The values of the voters or People who elected representative, truly reflects the kind of progress we have had.

    Yeah, there is plently of blame to go around. You bet.

    Blessings and Peace,

  2. There isn't any real argument that public education in Nevada is pretty poor and it's not just limited to Clark County, Even the rural schools with far more resources per pupil suffer by comparison to the rest of the country. The US, as well, compares unfavorably on the OECD rankings. Consider though that the US does have some of the best public education in the world. We have many high schools based on the International Bacelaureta[sp]? degree and many more where Advanced Placement is the norm rather than the exception. This is less common in Clark County but exists in some schools.

    Something to note is that the in the US we generally attempt to educate every child through 12 years of school. That is unusual in many nations to which we are compared. Unusual in the 12 years and unusual in the attempt to educate every kid. In Germany, for example, students as young as 15 are tracked towards academic, professional, skilled and unskilled occupations. At 16 many are working in apprenticeships and are effectively finished with classrooms as we know them.

    My wife shared with me data on the number of students failing the last chance proficiency exams given last week. It's pretty dismal, almost 75% failure rate. But remember, this is the fifth time that most of the students have taken taken these tests; can they not reasonably prepare themselves for what they know is coming? In many of the nations to which we compare ourselves those kids might be given two opportunities at best.

    Money???Well, if we choose to educate everybody through 12 years it's going to cost more. It's not hard or expensive to educate the kid in the middle of the bell curve, but get to the ends and it's a strain on any budget. How much do you think they spend per kid in Palo Alto at the high school attached to Stanford, or Bronx Science. Look at the report on Sandy Valley going to a 4-day week and compare their per pupil expenditures to the balance of Clark County. Or how about education for kids with autism...classes of six or eight with two teachers and a couple aides can't be cheap to run. Many places those kids would never have an opportunity to get out of an institution.

    The biggest challenge to public education is that too many of the stakeholders have backed themselves into ideological corners and have not left them selves opportunities for graceful exits or compromises. CCSD is a perfect example of that. With his hard-line approach Dwight Jones has made it difficult to back down so he and his top administrators need scapegoats. The Board has been ineffective and CCEA duplicitous. Someone is going to have to take on the role of the adult in the room.

  3. The current state of education is NOT JUST the teachers' fault. It is ALL our fault:

    Jones' "Ready by Exit" should have been "Ready by Entry" and that goes to parents, the community, academia, the lawmakers, and the powers-that-be. Each one must assume his respective role in educating children.

    Parents: A child formally starts Kindergarten at age 5. By age 3 his personality has been set. If that child has not learned by that age positive social interactions and self-discipline, the teacher would have to fill that gap. If his brain has not been stimulated by that age, the huge gap needs to be filled in before any formal academic instruction can begin. This is the parents' responsibility that teachers have to 'assume' when the child is in Kindergarten, in addition to the school curriculum that has to be covered. With 30 students to a class, imagine how a teacher does this magic. If that gap is not filled, it becomes cumulative and frustrations lead to dropping out.

    The community cannot ignore education because the children of the community are its children. What is put out there and how they are treated, the children see and emulate.

    Academia must examine its curricula to stay abreast with current needs and requirements. Teachers must be fully prepared to teach the current breed of students with the challenges they are facing in a fast changing world and culture.

    The lawmakers must educate themselves on what education requires and must legislate support measures devoid of partisanship and politics -- simply for the purpose of preparing children as leaders and for citizenship.

    The powers-that-be must hold themselves accountable for each influence they place on public policy with the conviction that ROI does not only come in monetary form, but also in elevating human conditions.

    Utopian? Yes.

    It is always easier to travel in the road of least resistance and blame others when we lost our way.

  4. b, c, d and e