Nevada Public School Performance

Parents and Employers Give a Failing Grade

By Robert Schmidt, Ph.D., Charles F. Barr
  • Thursday, January 1, 2004

Executive Summary

When the performance of Nevada public schools is seen through the eyes of parents and employers, the picture is not pretty.

Almost half of Clark County parents doubt that their local school district is adequately preparing their children for college. When Washoe County parents are added to the survey sample, only 42 percent of parents in the state's two most populous counties believe the school districts are adequately preparing youth for the work force. The parents' main criticism: the relatively meager time allocated by the districts to teaching the basic skills of mathematics, writing, and reading.

Parents in both of Nevada's urban centers also agree that the local school districts are too large and should be broken into smaller ones more responsive to their concerns. In this respect, the parents are significantly ahead of Nevada school authorities — the preference for smaller school districts has significant theoretical and empirical support nationally.

When Nevada employers were surveyed, 42 percent of those who had hired recent graduates rated them as unsatisfactory overall. Employers gave very low ratings to recent graduates' skills in mathematics, communication, and problem solving. Of employers seeking to fill job vacancies, 67 percent said they found no qualified applicants for these positions. This is a significantly poor showing, since a primary task of public schools is preparing students to enter the work force.

In the hotel, gaming and recreation sector on the other hand, 77 percent of employers who had hired recent graduates said Nevada's public school system provides them with an adequate supply of graduates with appropriate skills.

Given the significantly lower levels of employer satisfaction levels in the larger business community, this finding indicates that our public schools are contributing to the perpetuation of Nevada as a one-industry state. Essentially, the state K-12 system is preparing high school graduates for lesser skilled, lower paying careers in the gaming and tourism sector — while failing to provide students with the basic skills necessary to attract other types of businesses and thus diversify the economy.

Because Nevada public schools produce so many of both high school dropouts and graduates without basic skills, Silver State employers often must finance remedial training to overcome their new employees' skill deficiencies. A conservative estimate of the Nevada business community's annual remedial-training burden is $65 million — encouraging firms to substitute technology for employees.

Substantial empirical evidence confirms that, per dollar spent on schooling, student performance improves when school districts are smaller in size and compete with one another. Moreover, public support for public schools is stronger when school funding and control remain local. In other words, students, parents, and taxpayers are better off when school districts are small enough to allow a meaningful amount of local control.  

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