Former CCSD school board members try to conceal district’s lack of progress

Karen Gray

Apparently former CCSD school board members Ruth Johnson and Mary Beth Scow don't want the district's progress or lack of it judged on the basis of the nation's report card, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Instead, they prefer the No Child Left Behind act's adequate yearly progress (AYP) scoring, which can be—and regularly is—"gamed."

Those AYP results depend on formulas and exceptions that vary from state to state and year to year. For instance, Nevada has moved charter school scores first in, and then out, of the formulae for determining AYP. At the prodding of CCSD, Nevada also pursued and then received permission to use averages of scores over multiple years to achieve AYP. Of the 89 CCSD schools subsequently granted AYP through appeals, 27 percent were approved based on these new averaging allowances that allowed schools to mix in scores achieved under earlier years' more generous standards. These schools would not have made AYP otherwise. Finally, because new schools automatically make AYP, Clark County was able to get a boost by simply opening nine new schools during the 2007-2008 school year.

Similarly, Johnson and Scow want to spin the big CCSD drop in SAT scores as just part of a national drop due to a change in the test. But while national test scores dipped a mere 6 points, Clark County dropped 12 to 14 points in critical reading—depending on which CCSD monitoring report you use. And while the national scores leveled out in 2007, CCSD continued its decline. As of now, Clark County School District has a 13-point deficit from the national average of 502.

The pattern in math is similar. While the rest of the nation dipped five points after the test, CCSD dropped12 points and continued to drop while the rest of the nation leveled off. Clark County now has an 18-point deficit from the national average math score of 515.

Until 2003, Clark County hovered around the national average or scored higher. However, in 2003—the baseline year for the board's embrace of Policy Governance—CCSD scores began to rapidly fall away from the national average.

The now-departed CCSD school board members also drag out the regular fall-back excuse for failed school district performance: blame it on minority and poor families. But there are two problems with that argument. First. CCSD accountability reports show an average 19 percent ELL population since 2003, while—depending on which CCSD report you use—the free-and-reduced-lunch population has dropped from 44 percent to 38 percent since 2003. It did not "skyrocket". Secondly, Florida has solidly demonstrated that genuine reforms—of the kind that CCSD regularly evades—will accomplish massive educational progress. Indeed, NAEP scores for Hispanic free-and-reduced-lunch kids in Florida are at virtually the same level as Nevada's average students!

Our term-limited-out CCSD trustees also plead no responsibility for the continuing overcrowding of schools in the school district. But the school board does have control over school-attendance boundaries, where its new schools are built and whether all seats are utilized before building commences. Currently, Clark County taxpayers are paying to build new schools when more than 35,000 seats are already sitting empty, waiting for students. The board also could foster—rather than block, as it does—charter schools, where private-sector funds, rather than taxpayers, foot the bill for construction or rental costs.

Of course, no Nevada school district's evasion of educational responsibility would be complete without a complaint about per-pupil funding, and the ex-trustees do not disappoint. However, as multiple studies have shown, coming from all quarters of ideological persuasion, there is no correspondence between level of spending and level of school performance. For example, Florida—referenced earlier—made its large increases in performance for a virtual pittance, much less of a per-pupil increase than most states' taxpayers saw.

Finally, Johnson and Scow try to pick nits on the market status of Policy Governance, asserting it is not "commercially sold." In reality, the school district—like other organizations across the country—utilized "purchased" consulting services from Policy Governance guru Dr. John Carver regarding the implementation of his trademarked program. That this petty objection was even offered is an index of the state of board leadership over the last 12 years. It is a red herring to distract the public from the continuing issue of substandard CCSD performance.