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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