Even more Nevada families are going to need ESAs

Steven Miller

By Steven Miller

Defenders of Nevada’s educational status quo constantly complain that the Silver State’s new universal Educational Savings Accounts “would drain money away from Clark County’s public schools…”[1]

What they ignore, however, is growing evidence that channeling dollars away from CCSD’s monopoly grasp would benefit education in Nevada.

Much of the evidence can be found in a recent in-depth examination of district management, the 2011 Educational and Operational Efficiency Study of the Clark County School District, conducted for CCSD by the Gibson Consulting Group out of Austin, Texas.

The report almost immediately, on page 8, notes that CCSD “throughout its growth period” — essentially three decades — has been failing in its proclaimed mission of achieving substantial student-performance gains.[2]

Then, throughout the report’s 272 pages, its authors systematically document hordes of particular management failures.

Cumulatively, these lapses soon reveal themselves as the predictable byproduct of adults looking out for themselves while populating unaccountable public bureaucracies. Because this has so long been tolerated at CCSD, however, an administrative culture has congealed that casually and systemically betrays students, teachers and the taxpaying public. Meanwhile, the district hides behind its massive taxpayer-funded PR machine and its institutionalized hostility to transparency.

The essence of the Gibson report probably emerges most clearly in the Chapter 5 discussion of “Performance Measurement and Accountability.”

Because accountability is the engine that drives successful management, study analysts went out of their way to explicitly outline the “performance cycle” through which successful and accountable managers achieve success.

That cycle is executed step by step:

  1. Performance data are measured and analyzed.
  2. Solutions and plans are developed within the context of district, school and departmental goals.
  3. Resources are allocated.
  4. The plans are executed.
  5. Individuals are held accountable for performance, through formal performance evaluations.
  6. “If performance levels are not achieved, individuals should be removed from the organization and replaced with an individual who is able to meet performance expectations.”

What analysts found is that, at “virtually every step” of management’s performance cycle,[3] CCSD was not even organized to perform those steps. 

The Gibson study is authoritative, reflecting the interviews and work sessions conducted by nine highly qualified consultant teams with 200-plus CCSD leaders and staff over the summer of 2011. It also includes input from three other large “peer” U.S. school districts, each of which faces challenges similar to CCSD’s but still does a significantly better job for its students.

In part because it focused on the ostensibly dry subject of district management, the Gibson study has not received the widespread exposure it merits. But most certainly another reason for the report’s low public profile is its searing illumination of an always-flailing CCSD management.

That portrait naturally raises a critical question: Why should the State of Nevada keep pumping hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into this lumbering, constantly failing albatross?

Such a question is not one that those with a financial or political stake in this district want people asking. It was no surprise that — when the district trustees had the opportunity to personally grill the Gibson consultants — they only asked feckless, beside-the-point questions.

After all, the trustees are the official leaders of the district, and its failures are their failures. Widespread recognition of CCSD’s inability to actually accomplish its mission would deprive them of what has long been a stepping stone to higher political office.

“Don’t go there” seems to have been the phrase silently echoing in their heads.

Because such politically motivated and self-interested pretense vis-à-vis the broad Nevada public saturates much of CCSD’s culture, the legislatively mandated reorganization of the district is going to remain at risk for some time — even if, superficially, board hostility subsides.

Consequently, many more Southern Nevada families are going to need Education Savings Accounts well into the future.

So…. Will lawmakers address this need — or continue to evade it?


Steven Miller is the Senior Vice President of the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

[1] E.g., Sylvia Lazos, “COMMENTARY: Private school vouchers would drain money away from Clark County’s public schools, and largely benefit Nevada’s richest students and families,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, January 14, 2017.
[2] “Throughout its growth period, the district has struggled to make substantial gains in student performance,” concluded the Gibson Consulting Group in its 2011 Educational and Operational Efficiency Study of the Clark County School District, p.8.
[3] “At CCSD, this performance cycle has improvement opportunities at virtually every step… [W]eaknesses in the current cycle … impact …performance accountability. Many of these issues are addressed in separate sections of this report. The purpose here is to demonstrate the relationship among these issues and their collective impact on the organization’s ability to achieve high performance levels.”

Steven Miller

Senior Vice President, Nevada Journal Managing Editor

Steven Miller is Nevada Journal Managing Editor, Emeritus, and has been with the Institute since 1997.

Steven graduated cum laude with a B.A. in Philosophy from Claremont Men’s College (now Claremont McKenna). Before joining NPRI, Steven worked as a news reporter in California and Nevada, and a political cartoonist in Nevada, Hawaii and North Carolina. For 10 years he ran a successful commercial illustration studio in New York City, then for five years worked at First Boston Credit Suisse in New York as a technical analyst. After returning to Nevada in 1991, Steven worked as an investigative reporter before joining NPRI.