Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun
Tuesday, March 23, 2010 | 2:01 a.m.
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Gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid unveiled an education plan Monday calling for extensive reform in a K-12 system he says is failing Nevada’s children.
The Economic Development through Great Education, or EDGE, plan would give more control over daily operations to school principals, provide performance incentives to aid recruiting and retention of top teachers, and grant parents more choice on where their children go to school.
At the same time, the plan passes key litmus tests for the state teachers union, which has endorsed Reid for governor and represents a key constituency for the Democratic candidate.
A prominent union position in the plan is that teacher performance be judged on multiple measures rather than a “snapshot” based on a high-stakes standardized test. Reid is also pushing for improved mentoring and professional development, echoing the union’s view.
Reid said he spent about a year developing his plan, meeting with educators, community leaders, parents and lawmakers. He also looked at local success stories, including Bracken Elementary and Green Valley High School.
Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association, said she has had “many great conversations” with Reid on education issues. No other candidate for governor has sought her input, she said.
Reid’s plan borrows from initiatives that are showing promise locally and nationally. It also includes buzzwords — choice, accountability, autonomy and reform — that have become familiar refrains in Nevada, which currently languishes near the bottom of most lists when it comes to evaluating the quality of its schools and students.
Some recommendations are expansions of initiatives in place. The increased autonomy, improved staff development, pay incentives and stricter accountability are all tenets of the Clark County School District’s empowerment model, Superintendent Walt Rulffes said.
“In any case,” Rulffes said, “when education is a central plank in the platform, it’s good for Nevada.”
Among the highlights of Reid’s plan:
• Teachers would be required to go through longer probationary periods (typically one year in most Nevada districts, including Clark County) so that schools have more time to weed out underperforming teachers.
• Principals would have more flexibility in how they allocate their funding.
• Teachers and principals would receive more comprehensive performance evaluations.
• Parents would have opportunities to choose their children’s schools, rather than being bound by current zoning. (Transportation, however, would not be provided under the plan.)
• Teachers would receive incentives to work in at-risk schools, which often have a hard time hiring experienced personnel, and be rewarded for mentoring less experienced colleagues.
• The elected State Board of Education would become a mix of appointees and elected officials. Additionally, the state superintendent of public instruction would no longer answer to the state board but to the governor.
No cost estimates are included in the plan. Reid claims the proposals are “revenue neutral,” and some programs would eventually attract donations through local businesses partnering with campuses.
“We’ll attract not just private funders, but private employers seeking out the students graduating from our improved school system,” the plan states. “Our economy will grow — and with it our state’s funding base. The result: higher tax revenues for our schools without higher taxes.”
Reid, who is chairman of the Clark County Commission, said the plan would foster competition among campuses by converting them into so-called “Edge” schools — 20 percent statewide within a year, increasing to all public schools within five years. State funding would follow individual students as they choose the schools that best fit their academic needs.
Reid acknowledged that given the state’s dismal budget outlook, transportation would not be provided for “Edge schools,” at least at the outset. That would likely mean “choice” would be limited to families who could afford to provide their own transportation.
To compensate, Reid said his plan also includes elements intended to improve the quality of underperforming schools, by offering incentives to experienced teachers who agree to work at the campuses and mentor less-experienced peers. That would improve the overall quality of all schools, regardless of whether choice was an option, Reid said.
Another Reid proposal aimed at improving campuses is merit pay.
Reid’s formula follows the Clark County School District’s model — in place at several empowerment campuses and drafted with significant input from the local teachers union. It calls for bonuses to be shared by entire campuses rather than singling out individual teachers.
The proposals, Reid said, will also benefit the broader economy. New businesses want to know they’re coming to a state with educated workers for hire, as well as good schools for the children of their own employees, Reid said.
“We’re never going to get a strong economy without stronger schools,” Reid said.