Solving Our Schools

If you care about knowing what is wrong with education in Nevada, read on:

•Clark County School District superintendent Dwight Jones resigned. Naturally, rumors spread that his stated reason—to be with his ailing mother in Texas—was a cover story. Rumors like that are inevitable. But more important and inevitable are why his policies weren’t working or wouldn’t work: when he decided to make his reforms, teachers were informed literally when they were to start implementing the changes. No warning or preparation. Just do it.

To which you might ask, shouldn’t they be able to do it? Let’s try it from this angle: you’re a liberal Democrat, you’ve had the same belief system all your life, and you’re told, “In 10 minutes, you will agree with everything Paul Ryan says.” How easily would you adjust?

All too often, their critics think teachers don’t really work because classes meet only
for nine months. You can’t argue with stupid, so don’t. But when a superintendent arrives in the district supposedly to clean it up and targets the teachers rather than the administration, brings in a highly paid consultant who happens to be a pal and doesn’t dedicate himself to getting buy-in from the people in the classroom who have to do the job, that means the attitude of the unthinking public also exists within educational administration.

•On a related note, state school superintendent James Guthrie—under recent changes in the law, an appointee of Governor Brian Sandoval instead of the state board of education—announced, “An effective teacher trumps all we know about class size,” and added that “in an ideal world … I wouldn’t be concerned about class size.”

In an ideal world, teachers would be paid what they’re worth and acolytes of failed school reformer Michelle Rhee would have learned their lesson. On arriving, Guthrie also questioned the value of a senior year in high school, which reflects the belief that that student is best who graduates, not one who has learned.

The trouble is Guthrie, like Jones, has new evaluation systems that often don’t take into account other factors. Whether a child has been properly fed actually matters, and if you want to understand part of the problem with American education, consider this: Repeated studies have shown that their growth patterns make teens night owls while younger children are early risers, so what do we do? We start high school earlier than elementary school. Maybe we should try using common sense instead of teaching to the test, as educational reformers are so desperate for us all to do.

•Moving up the educational ladder, the Nevada System of Higher Education had an interesting response to the most important bill at this year’s legislature.

Yes, the most important.

AB 150 would, as it states, create “the Legislative Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability” and “the Legislative Bureau of Governmental Oversight, Accountability and Program Evaluation” within the legislature’s Fiscal Analysis Division. The latter would “collect and analyze data and issue written reports” on “the efficiency, transparency and accountability of the operations of governmental agencies.”

Democrats—you know, the supposedly big spending/big government types—introduced this measure. Since Senate Finance chair Debbie Smith and Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick are among the lead sponsors, it has a good chance of survival. They want to see “books, papers, records and other information” to keep track of what’s going on. You’d think Republicans would love it, since they dislike government waste.

But a representative of the NSHE chancellor’s office, Constance Brooks, testified before the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections committee that higher education should be exempt because NSHE just doesn’t need the oversight. Also, the Nevada Constitution empowers the regents to do that—but it doesn’t give the regents the power to decide what money the legislature will give the system.

To vary an old phrase: when they tell you it isn’t about the money, it’s the money; when
they tell you they don’t need oversight, they need it. And NSHE knows it. So should we all.