Education reform 2010

Patrick Gibbons

Governor Gibbons’ plan to improve education is on the right track. Many education experts now recognize that school districts’ priorities are out of whack – too focused on complying with often contradictory laws, rules and regulations coming from the feds and the state, on launching more programs and on creating jobs for adults. (Check out the more than 30 reports on this subject from the non-partisan Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington.)

To help eliminate state-level mandates and decentralize control of schools, the governor proposes two big changes. One eliminates mandates that districts must use certain money only for class-size reduction and full-time kindergarten. Basically, the plan is to give at least some of the money back to the school districts to use as they please with no legislative requirements on how to spend the money.

Watch out for political spin as opponents (and misguided journalists) report this as an attempt to eliminate the programs altogether. Actually, if we did eliminate the programs, the state would save about $350 million a biennium with no ill effects on the children.

Here is why:

  • Class-size reduction merely reduces the ratio of students to teachers, not necessarily the size of classes.

  • Class-size reduction can have modest benefits – but only when good teachers are in the classroom. Think about it. If your child has a great teacher, getting more personal attention for your student is good. But if the teacher is mediocre, or even bad, the personal attention won’t matter.

  • The effectiveness of teachers is the overriding issue. Research has established that highly effective teachers are 10 to 20 times more effective than small class sizes. Thus, if Nevada had a way of identifying and rewarding great teachers, we could have larger class sizes and higher student achievement at the same time.

  • Nevada, however, lacks any systematic way of identifying good teachers – such as the meaningful teacher evaluations that use student-testing data. And because districts lie down before teacher-union bosses and refuse to give superior teachers superior pay, class-size reduction only increases the likelihood that your children are exposed to teachers who are mediocre (or worse).
  • Nevada’s teacher certification laws also make it difficult to hire great teachers. Not only does the state lack an alternative certification program that would allow professionals to switch to teaching without returning to college, but state law even prohibits school districts from hiring college professors unless they’ve been certified to teach K-12. No certification is required to teach college students. See a problem?