Latest test scores show futility of throwing money at weak education reforms

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Over the past four decades, according to a Cato Institute analysis, Nevada has increased K-12 public school funding by 80 percent per pupil, adjusted for inflation. During those four decades student test scores have actually fallen slightly.

Now another statistic has revealed the apparent futility of all that increased spending.

This past spring for the first time, all Nevada high school juniors were required to take the ACT college entrance exam. According to an Associated Press account, only 8 percent of those juniors are ready for college in the four major subject areas. The average score was 17.4 on a 36-point scale.

Seth Rau — policy director for Nevada Succeeds, an education advocacy organization — called the data depressing in an op-ed in the Las Vegas newspaper. He noted that 12 other states require all juniors to take the ACT, and Nevada’s average score was a full point-and-a-half below the next lowest state with mandatory testing, North Carolina. A score of 21.3 is considered college ready.

Rau said the data should be used as a base by which the education reforms passed by the 2015 Legislature at the behest of Gov. Brian Sandoval can be evaluated. Those reforms come with a price tag of more than a billion dollars.

“As reforms targeting middle schools and high schools — such as Zoom Schools, Victory Schools, and Career/Technical Education programs — come into place, the ACT should serve as a key accountability benchmark for progress in the short term,” Rau writes. “In the longer run, it will be a key measure of whether our early childhood interventions — such as third-grade retention and full-day Kindergarten — are paying dividends for the future of our state. If our students are not ready for college and/or careers in the future, then it will be clear that our investments in reform have not paid off as well as intended.”

The problem is Nevada has been pouring money into these special programs for decades instead of engaging in fundamental reforms such as incentive pay and tracking the progress of individual students and each teacher’s class results year over year.

Since 1990 Nevada has spent close to $2.5 billion on class-size reduction, but a 2001 report by the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau found that in many cases students in larger classes outperformed those in the smaller classes.

Most of those Zoom Schools and Victory Schools are in urban districts with large populations of students for which English is a second language.

Former Democratic Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, who pushed the 2013 law that ended high school proficiency exams as a requirement for graduation but mandated the ACT test, told the AP in response to the low ACT scores, “That’s shocking … and this is from someone who has spent years now diving into our educational system. … It’s a stark reminder that we’ve got a lot more work to do.”

Of the 2015 education funding increase, Flores remarked, “I think we’ve made a whole lot of progress. … I hope this serves as a very stark reminder that we have to keep our foot on the gas pedal. We have to make sure every last kid has the resources they need.”

Nevada has kept its foot on the gas pedal for decades with nothing to show for it except a steady decline.

It is past time for Nevada to stop wasting money and initiate real education reforms. — TM

Comments

  1. Educational Administrator says:

    As someone that has been working inside education systems for a long time, it’s not the teachers; it’s the system that is failing. I hear people blaming teachers for poor student outcomes but rarely hear anyone raising expectations of those of us responsible for the leadership of teachers, and the design and operation of the system itself. Teachers have never been under more scrutiny than they are right now. Expect more from those of us in administration. Support good leaders; reject bad ones and you will see more effective teaching and learning in the classroom.

    I’d like to see the conversation move from teachers to teaching. What can we change about how teaching is done to make it more effective? Some initiatives may not have had the intended effect. Which ones and why? What is working in Nevada and in other places? These are questions that have answers. It can be difficult to a ascertain because we don’t know what would have happened without class size reduction, for example. It is possible that it has had some positive effect but there are bigger problems dragging outcomes down. Were class sizes even reduced by the amount intended? It gets complicated. It is true that money alone does not fix things, but every change initiative costs money. Not changing is not an option.

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