Las Vegas Sun

June 2, 2015

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Sun Editorial:

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Negative reports on schools should change the education debate

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Nevada’s education system recently received a double whammy of negative attention that shouldn’t be lost in the midst of summer vacation.

As Paul Takahashi reported last week in the Sun, Las Vegas was at the top of Parenting Magazine’s list of the 10 worst cities in the nation for education, and if that wasn’t enough, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual Kids Count report ranked Nevada’s schools 50th in the nation.

These may be new lows — Las Vegas, an international city, is worse than Jackson, Miss., and Mobile, Ala.? — but the reports shouldn’t be a surprise. Nevada’s education system has routinely fared poorly in national rankings, and these reports sadly reaffirm what Nevadans have known for years: The fact is that test scores are too low and dropout rates are too high.

Unfortunately, the state’s leaders haven’t taken significant steps to change education in a way that will significantly benefit students. The political debate has been caught up in finger-pointing (there is no shortage of reasons for the problems) and petty fights over money.

Some politicians argue that the state doesn’t put enough money into education. Other politicians complain that there’s enough or too much money and say that there need to be “reforms.”

Let’s be clear: Money is a real issue. The state hasn’t made a significant investment in education. Certainly, there’s a discussion to be had about what the money goes toward in education, but budgets have been tight for years — even during the boom times.

School critics like to try to steer the debate away from budgets. They say changes in policy are the answer, but some of the “reforms” they pursue in the name of education have become crusades against education unions that have tarred teachers and their work. Such efforts have seemed designed to try to exploit the state’s budget crisis to pursue a political ideology that is apparently intent on dismantling public education.

As a result, the state has been locked in a fruitless debate over education: more money or “reforms.” Teachers and schools: good or bad. It’s ugly and misses the point. The either-or aspect of the debate has stifled innovation and improvement.

There is plenty of middle ground to find, should a coalition of politicians be open enough to seek it. More money is needed, but it isn’t the sole answer. Neither is changing policy. There is no single magic bullet. It’s going to take a combination of efforts to change the education system, including more money to do things such as reduce class sizes and policies that provide more accountability in education.

The real question is whether politicians are ready to have a real conversation rather than falling back into the debate we’ve seen for years.

Nevada should be embarrassed by such negative reports and ashamed that the state has remained at the bottom of the national rankings for so many years. At what point do political leaders put aside their ideologies and work to find real ways to improve the schools?

The negative reports, as unwelcome as they are, should spur a more serious conversation toward improving education. We don’t do our children justice with our education system. It’s beyond time for that to change.

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