This week, the Nevada Department of Education gave itself a big pat on the back as it released Nevada’s 2013 graduation rates.
Taken at face value, the self-praise might seem deserved — the state’s graduation rate jumped from 63 percent in 2012 to just over 70 percent in 2013.
But a closer look reveals that the state’s education officials have merely improved their own accounting skills and done little to advance student success. Prior to 2012, Nevada school districts counted students who transferred out of a district as dropouts. Now, students who move during high school are removed entirely from the graduation equation, thereby upping the perceived performance of state schools.
Even with the modest gains in the number of graduates last year, Nevada still lags behind the national average, and our children are paying the price.
No matter how you want to count graduates, we can all agree that Nevada’s schools are broken and that there’s plenty of room for improvement. While the Nevada Department of Education was busy adjusting its formula to make its failing schools look a little better, we at NPRI have been highlighting real solutions — those that actually increase the number of students graduating, not just improve our ability to count them.
Earlier this week, we held our first Board of Directors meeting of the year. Our Board meetings are always valuable, but the first meeting of the year is especially important.
That’s because it gives my management team and me an opportunity to sit down with our Board and discuss the projects and initiatives we have planned for the year ahead. And as we do so, we’re guided by a sometimes-frustrating but highly crucial truth: We can’t do it all.
There is an endless list of project ideas that have at least some merit. But the reality is that, given the limitations on our time and resources, we have to identify those areas where we can really make a significant difference on behalf of our organization’s principles, and we have to stay disciplined in concentrating our efforts on those things. In short, we need to prioritize.
In the year ahead, the majority of our work will focus on a few key areas: educating the public on the destructive economic impact of the proposed margin tax; continuing to inform union workers of their right to leave their union if they so choose; making government more transparent and accountable to those who fund it; and a fourth issue that I’ll get to in a moment. My job, as the Institute’s president, is to make sure that all of our departments and staff members understand what those priorities are and what they’re expected to do to help us achieve our goals.
As I mentioned a while back, I spent this past Christmas in rural Massachusetts, which is where I grew up and where most of my family still lives.
That trip offered a real change of pace from my typical day-to-day life and reminded me of one of my favorite things about America: that the customs, climate and experiences you’ll find in one part of the country can differ so vastly from what you’ll get in another. As if to drill the point home, I was out driving one morning in the small town where my parents live and I came within a few feet of running over an entire rafter of wild turkeys. That’s never happened to me in Las Vegas.
Still, there are some constants, and I was reminded of one of them on the morning of Dec. 27. As I was drinking my coffee, my dad handed me a copy of the local newspaper, The New Bedford Standard-Times, a paper for which, incidentally, I used to write sports articles as a teenager. In particular, he told me to check out the lead story on the front page. The headline: “New Bedford teachers union calls for United Way boycott.” Somehow, he knew I’d be intrigued.
One of the tenets of conservatism is the belief that individuals and families make better choices for themselves than government bureaucrats.
One of the places we see this most clearly demonstrated is in education. For the last century, government has run the vast majority of our nation’s schools with predictable results. As graduation rates and educational performance decreased, bureaucrats demanded more control and more money to address the problems they created. And despite spending more and centralizing control more and more, results continued to decline.
All the way back in the 1950s, the great economist Milton Friedman introduced the solution — school choice. Let parents control a portion of the money the government already spends to choose the school that’s best for their child.
In the last few decades, this idea has spread across the nation, and now 21 states and Washington, D.C., have some form of school choice. These programs have produced academic gains in student achievement for those participating in them, and also for those students who remained in traditional public schools. And since these programs can save the government money, it’s a true win-win-win.
Have you ever made a New Year’s resolution?
I’ve known people who’ve vowed to exercise more, spend quality with their family, eat healthy, read more or even to follow that dream they’ve always had.
I’ve even made some resolutions myself, with varying degrees of success.
A New Year’s resolution is a conscious acknowledgment of personal responsibility — that you have the power to change your job, your body, your circumstances and your life. And you do have that power. Where I’ve succeeded or failed in keeping resolutions, the credit or blame has been my own. I’m guessing your experience has been similar.
When I look back at the past year, I’m really amazed by how much has happened here at NPRI. From helping hundreds of teachers leave their union, to our litigation victories to uphold the rule of law, to our policy work advancing free-market solutions, 2013 was the most exciting and productive year we’ve ever had here at the Institute.
It is NPRI’s members, of course, who make it all possible, and it was wonderful to see so many of our friends last night at our open house/holiday party at our Las Vegas office. In lieu of a typical Week in Review column today, I wanted to invite you to go to our Facebook page and view pictures from yesterday and our Reno open house in November. I hope you enjoy them.
Here at NPRI, we’re all about solutions, and boy, have I got one for you today.
I think we should increase the minimum wage to $1,500 an hour.
I thought of this after reading about President Obama’s push to increase the minimum wage to more than $10 an hour, and then seeing a study touted by liberal groups here in Nevada calling for Silver State policymakers to go even further and set the minimum hourly wage at $15.
You know things aren’t going well for you as a president when the debate between your supporters and detractors isn’t over whether you’re a success or a failure, but over the reasons why you’ve failed.
Many of President Obama’s staunchest defenders have been shell-shocked by the still-unfolding disaster that is the (un)Affordable Care Act, and the honesty some of them have shown in acknowledging that disaster is commendable. But what’s striking is how many of them have insisted on chalking it up to either a botched rollout owing to a few technological glitches, or even a mere failure of public relations. A Nov. 3 column by the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne captured both sentiments. After imploring the law’s defenders to focus their attention on “simplifying and fixing the Web site,” Dionne then lamented that the administration “has never adequately defended the law.” Yes, because what Obamacare really needed was one more speech from the president.
Last year at Thanksgiving, I shared a great piece I’d read about the true story behind that special holiday. I received an enormous amount of positive feedback on it, and so I thought that this year, I’d simply publish last year’s column once again. Enjoy…
I’ve always thought of Thanksgiving as the quintessentially American holiday, bringing together so many of the things — faith, food, football, family and friends — that make living in this country so wonderful, and so worthy of deep appreciation.
But one of my very favorite things to do at this time of year is to revisit the story of the very first Thanksgiving.
Long-time followers of NPRI will be familiar with the evolution of Nevada Journal, the Institute’s news-reporting operation. Launched as a hard-copy magazine in 1996, Nevada Journal went dormant in 2001 before we finally resuscitated it as an online publication in 2009.
While its format has changed, Nevada Journal’s purpose has not. It exists to provide high-quality reporting on issues that often get overlooked by the traditional media. In recent years, we’ve brought many such stories to light, including the dubious financial practices of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, statewide problems with property-tax assessment practices, and the “double dipping” by former Assembly speaker John Oceguera as both a legislator and a North Las Vegas firefighter.
And now, I’d like to share with you another new development with Nevada Journal that will make us even more effective at fulfilling its mission.