Las Vegas Sun

July 27, 2016

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Guest column:

No longer business as usual

Success can be measured different ways. For many, it involves wealth, prosperity or power. For Nevada’s educators, it means something entirely different.

For these educators, success in schools is about more than test scores. It’s about values and hard work. It’s about the expression on a child’s face when she finally grasps the concept of a basic equation, the enthusiasm in a roomful of kids eager to be called on to answer a question, and the tearful goodbye from an accomplished student at the end of another academic year.

Nevada educators experience success — and disappointment — every workday, because they care about kids, not money or perks. Somehow this gets lost in education policy debates, where the voices of front-line experts aren’t heard.

These experts know that to improve schools everyone must contribute — teachers, education support professionals, students, parents, and elected officials. Lawmakers, in particular, must support classroom investments that will provide a foundation for student achievement. These include investments in early childhood education that prepares kids to learn, smaller classes that enable teachers to reach each student individually, and support services that enhance every child’s experience.

Nevada’s teachers and support staff are dedicated professionals who do their part by providing a stable, nurturing and inspiring environment for kids. They know they must meet high standards, and that failure to do so must carry consequences. But they know there also must be consequences for Nevada’s lawmakers, too many of whom don’t transcend partisanship to do what’s needed to properly fund and revamp K-12 education.

These legislators are long on slogans but short on substance. If taken seriously, you’d think legions of educators game the system and raid the public coffers. You’d believe there are slews of “bad teachers” who must be removed. According to this tale, once the “bad apples” are gone, test scores and graduation rates will magically rise.

While most people see through this opportunistic political posturing, educators under assault become disillusioned. That’s why we lose so many of the most talented among them who quit rather than endure the disrespect. This won’t change until politicians stop their senseless finger-pointing.

Responsible educators have led the fight for increased K-12 funding, but know it must be coupled with effective teaching. They have joined a host of others working on innovations to improve their profession based upon research and examination of best practices. Some of these changes are mandated by laws passed during the 2011 legislative session with the support of the Nevada State Education Association. But other so-called “landmark legislation” was anti-educator bunk masquerading as student-centered change that would improve public schools.

Our members aren’t fooled by sloganeering. They know there are no quick fixes, and they understand constructive change requires identifying, electing and supporting lawmakers who’ll fight hard for an education system that provides all students with a fair shot at success.

Nevadans can’t afford another session where lawmakers waste time on bogus “reforms” that do little besides give administrators excessive decision-making authority, even though their arbitrary personnel decisions can senselessly push talented folks out of the classroom. Real reforms must create conditions that truly increase student achievement. Such changes aren’t designed to place blame on educators for the failings of an underfunded system. Rather, they facilitate strong partnerships and mutual accountability among all the key stakeholders.

Our members are thus insisting on a new approach at NSEA. They’re demanding no more business as usual. They want NSEA to identify incumbent legislators and new candidates who’ll work to ensure every student can succeed in well-funded schools where professionals and parents are valued and outstanding performance is rewarded. They want our association to continue, as it always has, to advocate for data-based innovations that will benefit children. We’ve always believed those who fail to meet high professional standards should be accountable, and that’s reflected in contracts we’ve negotiated in school districts and changes we’ve supported in policymaking arenas.

Accountability isn’t a one-way street, though, and others besides educators should be held to tough standards. All of us, including legislators who often seem more concerned with re-election than doing what’s needed, must likewise be accountable. They must be willing to put kids and families first. This is our tough standard, and those who don’t meet it won’t get our support because for us business as usual is no longer an option for anyone who cares about Nevada’s future.

Gary Peck is the executive director of the Nevada State Education Association, the teachers union. Lynn Warne is the president of NSEA and a fourth-grade teacher in Washoe County.

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