Why Nevada Public Education Is Not About to Improve

Legislative initiatives don’t deal with the real issues

By Steven Miller
  • Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Here in Nevada the political class endlessly professes its dedication to getting our public schools out of their seemingly interminable rut.

It’s clear, of course, why elected politicians are so eager to appear responsive on this issue. When parents see evidence that a fifth-rate government school monopoly is depriving their kids of first-rate futures, parents understandably get quite anxious. And anxious parents in large numbers can quickly translate into thoroughly dead political careers.

Consequently, everyone in the Nevada Legislature today endlessly proclaims his or her eagerness to make Silver State K-12 education all that it could be. Behind the public facade, however, the legislative reality is surprisingly different.

Despite the objective and long-running crisis in Nevada schools, no session of the Nevada Legislature in recorded memory has produced, on education issues, more than a legislative mouse. Notwithstanding every session’s months of busywork—including the fine-mincing of innumerable bills in innumerable committee meetings and the always-predictable session-end dramatics—the educational end product always turns out to be of minuscule significance.

To be sure, few lawmakers would accept such a dismissive characterization of their work. With merit they could point out that “fine-mincing” is important, since details determine the success of even the most heroic enterprise. Many would also hasten to cite their ever-growing allocation of tax revenue to Nevada’s government schools.

Yet even these arguments turn out to illustrate the fundamental insignificance of the legislative response to Nevada’s public schools crisis. That’s because in the Nevada Legislature both the resources and the legislative detail-work are always—session after session—concentrated away from the areas most likely to improve the education of Nevada public school students.

If all the things that could be done to address the ills of K-12 education in the Silver State could be arranged in a line reflecting their relative power to produce positive change, it would soon become apparent that the Nevada Legislature chronically focuses its attentions on measures at only the most anemic and inconsequential end of that spectrum.

Widely replicated research, for example, has clearly established that the quality of teaching received by students has 20 times the impact on their achievement gains of any other factor, such as class-size reduction. Yet while Nevada lawmakers have blown a billion taxpayer dollars over the last 16 years on class-size reduction programs, they’ve put virtually nothing into programs to identify and reward outstanding individual teachers. And in what is probably even more serious, state legislative leaders have not as yet even discovered the entire Lost Continent that is teacher-training in Nevada.

If Silver State public schools are to have any chance of climbing out of the performance cellar, the colleges of education at UNLV and UNR will have to somehow begin graduating teachers with state-of-the-art teaching skills. Unfortunately, however, both colleges are largely dominated by the mindset of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).

While it is the largest accreditor of teacher training programs in the U.S., and professes the goal of ensuring quality teaching, the reality is that NCATE is little more than a hobbyhorse for leftist ideologues. It insistently promotes the notion that it is more important for teachers to be committed to social change and relativistic “diversity”—where all cultures and lifestyles are deemed equally valid—than it is for teachers to successfully teach students reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Indeed, as NCATE Senior Vice President Donna Gollnick emphasized at a November 2001 Las Vegas conference, of the organization’s six evaluation categories, four of them factor in how well an ed school’s curriculum generates sensitivity to “multicultural diversity,” while a fifth standard is entirely about that issue. Moreover, Gollnick—who is also president of the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME), sponsor of the conference—told a pre-convention meeting repeatedly that diversity is the single yardstick NCATE will use above all to measure the work of teacher trainers.

How the NCATE standards work out in practice can be frightening, since they require that aspiring teachers be evaluated in part on their “dispositions,” or attitudes toward “social justice.” Increasingly around the country, the “disposition” criterion is being used to block people from the teaching profession and to empower multiculturalists like G. Pritchy Smith, a founder of NAME and a frequent authority at NCATE-associated events.

“We need to reconstruct identities, values, beliefs, and lifestyles,” Smith told the 2001 Vegas conference. “We should be more aggressive … Social justice is the way to close the achievement gap. This should be the central ‘disposition.’”

Continued next week.

Steven Miller is policy director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute and editor of BusinessNevada (biz.npri.org).

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