It was mighty nice of Gov. Brian Sandoval to dredge up and drag onto stage a living, breathing illustration of just how effective his plan to spend nearly a billion dollars on educational improvements will be.
During Wednesday’s hours-long orgasmic paean to the perks of plucking $250 million a year in higher business license fees from the private sector, Gov. Brian Sandoval invited three former governors to testify for his Senate Bill 252, which is basically margin tax lite, a thinner version of the tax proposal rejected by voters in November by 80 percent to 20 percent. One of those formers was Bob Miller, who served as governor from 1987 through 1998.
Miller pushed for and the 1989 Legislature approved a class-size reduction in grades first through third.
“I along with many people in this room have been fighting to modernize our education system through both reforms and the creation of a stable broad-based funding source, and this session is the best opportunity we will likely ever have to reach this goal,” Miller testified before a joint meeting of the state Senate and Assembly taxation panels. “In the 1990s our focus, mine and the Legislature, was on class-size reduction and early childhood programs like family to family and family resource centers, enhancing technology in our classrooms and a study on standards assessment accountability, but here we are today, and as most of you know, the statistics are depressing about our state’s education system.”
He went on to cite the facts that students are reading below grade level and 30 percent aren’t graduating from high school.
Since 1990 the state has spent close to $2.5 billion on Miller’s class-size reduction — which like Sandoval’s plans for all-day kindergarten, early childhood education and various special million-dollar programs was a no-brainer at the time — but the results have been nil. In fact, in some cases the results have run counter to what was expected.
A 2001 report by the Legislative Counsel Bureau found that, while principals, teachers, and parents were very positive in their attitudes toward class-size reduction, achievement data did not produce exceptional results. Students in larger classes outperformed those in the smaller classes.
Twenty-five years and billions of dollars later Miller is back and saying the system is broken and we need to spend billions of dollars more on special programs.
Two ideas Sandoval has put forward, but without much specificity, might improve things: stop promoting third graders who cannot read and provide incentive pay to teachers whose students show improvement on assessment tests. Neither costs anything more than is currently being spent.
James Guthrie, who served as Nevada’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction from 2013 to 2014, said in an article posted on Nevada Policy Research Institute’s website:
The governor’s budget would spend additional millions on timid reforms such as expanded preschool, English language learning, opportunities for gifted students, staff for low performing schools, opposing cyber bullying, facility construction and more personnel for the State Education Department.
These proposals appear to be guided more by political expediency — greasing squeaky wheels — than a goal of effective education. Moreover, by proposing to spend public dollars in less than fully productive ways, the governor’s plan risks the future of tens of thousands of students now trapped in underperforming schools.
The absence of a clear focus on a few high-return strategies wastes money, hurts students and squanders opportunity.
To counter low academic achievement, Nevada must recruit and retain larger numbers of effective teachers, place them where they are most needed and reward them for high performance. No new technology, textbook, class-size reduction, professional development or physical facility can substitute for effective teachers.
By identifying the most effective 10 percent of Nevada’s teachers and offering to pay them $200,000 a year in exchange for additional teaching and mentoring responsibilities, Nevada could become a magnet for teaching talent. As a state, we would have our pick of the nation’s best teachers. This entire plan can be accomplished with existing financial resources by repurposing dollars currently wasted on class-size reduction.
Nevada’s public schools lack accountability. No adults feel pain when children persistently fail.