NPRI Education Roundtables
When substandard performance by Nevada schools is discussed, state educators almost invariably blame it on less than optimal funding. This rhetoric is not surprising; nationally, the education sector’s pleas for additional funding are so frequent that it might seem money is the only cure for instructional woes. But while increased spending can clearly have a positive impact on educational quality, the question remains: Can money alone cure the problems that plague Nevada's educational institutions?
The Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI), following the 2004 release of two studies — Wasting Time and Money: Why so Many Nevada Students are Not Ready for College, and Nevada Public School Performance: Parents and Employers Give a Failing Grade — organized a series of roundtable discussions to explore the topic of educational reform. Sessions were held in northern and southern Nevada and participants included over 50 recognized leaders of the state’s business, education and legislative communities.
Two polar perspectives were offered as a basis for discussion. First was the NSEA-supported ballot initiative to amend the Nevada constitution to fund schools at a yet-undefined "national average." Offered as counterpoint was the proposition that the most pressing needs of Nevada’s K-12 and higher education systems are for organizational reforms, rather than additional taxpayer funds.
The goal of the roundtables was not any single immediate solution to problems within Nevada’s educational system, but rather, discussions that could lay the foundation for future cooperation. Most public-sector educators continued to believe that added funding would provide the greatest increase in educational success, while several legislators and private sector representatives suggested that added spending will provide little benefit if organizational and leadership improvements are not made within Nevada’s educational system.
Significant points of discussion included:
• How business people see Nevada schools
• How well Nevada’s students do at all levels
• “National Average” funding
• The public’s unmet need for fiscal accountability throughout Nevada’s education system
• Chronic failure of top-down leadership systems for both in K-12 and UCCSN
• Issues of school district size in Clark and Washoe counties
• How exceptionally low tuition generates low standards at Nevada’s flagship universities
• Lack of parental choice within the K-12 system
• Teacher performance pay, training and qualifications
• Top-heavy administrative spending in the university system
A non-attribution policy allowed roundtable participants to speak candidly. The dialogues were engaging and wide-ranging, and most participants found the sessions informative and worthwhile. Perhaps the greatest measure of the roundtables’ success is the increasing momentum for genuine educational reform sensed by Nevada legislators, business leaders and the academic community.