Busy work for adults

Patrick Gibbons

Nine more states – Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Oregon, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming – have dropped out of the Race to the Top competition.

None of these states made the top 16 during Round 1. Several states are finding it difficult to get union support to pass meaningful reform, and some simply feel like they are giving up too much local control to the federal government.

This hasn’t discouraged Nevada, though, as the Silver State mailed in its 211-page application – which rises to 1,567 pages when you include introductions, letters of support, addendums, appendices, graphs, charts and a table of contents.

Nevada knows bureaucracy and paperwork and certainly loves giving adults busy work – but we sure stink at educating our children.

Though I haven’t completely read the application (I did read an earlier draft) I won’t be surprised if very few reforms are actually proposed (and you still have to get the legislature to pass them in 2011). In the earlier draft, the application consisted of mostly fluff. For example, the application draft presented No Child Left Behind requirements as bold reforms that would help turn around Nevada’s failing schools. Of course, every state is required implement those policies and (not surprisingly) they haven’t actually worked.

Truth be told, Nevada isn’t the most reform-minded state in the union when it comes to improving education. With no parental school-choice program, statewide bureaucratic hostility to charter schools and an unenforced empowerment-school law that is completely ignored by the Washoe County School District and partially ignored by the Clark County School District, plus teacher tenure that can be earned in just one year, continued obstinance on alternative teacher certification, useless pay scales that reward teachers in ways that provide no benefit to students and a distinct inability to fire bad teachers (only three states fire fewer teachers), Nevada isn’t likely to score many points.

Fortunately, NPRI has proposed dozens of solutions, including one very simple idea – COPY FLORIDA! That said, without serious changes, the Silver State can only hope that the potential biases of the reviewing process result in a political decision to pick the winners of the Race to the Top, rather than a merit-based outcome.

Nevada’s student achievement and hostility to reform suggest the state really doesn’t deserve to win right now. I know lots of dedicated people worked hard on this application, and I’ll leave open the possibility that this judgment may be premature and harsh, but as I dig deeper into the application, I doubt I will change my mind.