Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011 | 6:07 p.m.
Where I Stand: Brian Sandoval
- Reforms vital for Nevada education (8-14-2011)
Gov. Brian Sandoval said he plans to continue following Florida’s education reform model by pushing for laws that promote school choice and put an end to the idea that students should automatically advance to the next grade level.
Sandoval and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush toured two nontraditional Las Vegas-area schools Wednesday to see how technical and charter schools can be expanded across Nevada and the country.
Bush — who enacted a number of school reforms as Florida’s governor between 1999 and 2007 — has become an adviser in recent years to mostly Republican policymakers in about a dozen states implementing “the Florida formula” for education. Bush currently serves as the founder and chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a nonprofit organization that pushes his reform agenda.
The model calls for more rigorous academic standards, standardized student measurements, expanding school choice with an emphasis on charter and online schools, pursuing public-private partnerships and ending social promotion, or the idea that students automatically graduate to the next grade level. Bush credits these reforms for lowering Florida’s dropout rate and raising its graduation rates and test scores, although skeptics say other factors such as class size reduction may explain the improvements.
In the recent legislative session, Nevada passed new education bills that mirrored some of Florida’s reforms, including de-emphasizing teacher seniority in performance evaluations, ending “last in, first-out” policy in teacher layoffs, establishing a state charter school authority and enacting measures that give teachers alternative ways to become licensed.
The hope is that Florida’s reforms would work in Nevada, a state that shares many commonalities with the Sunshine State.
Both Florida and Nevada have high minority populations and similar per-pupil funding levels. The Clark County School District — the nation’s fifth largest — considers Florida’s Miami-Dade County Public Schools (fourth largest) and the Broward County Public Schools (sixth largest) to be peer districts.
Sandoval and Bush talked about plans to implement more of Florida’s reform efforts in Nevada as they toured Southwest Career and Technical Academy and the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy. Southwest is a Clark County magnet school and Agassi Prep is a charter school.
Sandoval announced he plans to end so-called social promotion. In Florida, Bush eliminated social promotion in third grade — he suggested Nevada eliminate it in eighth grade.
“It shouldn’t be a novel idea that every child should be able to read at grade level by third grade,” Sandoval said, echoing Bush. “We think (ending social promotion) will go a long way to decrease the dropout rate in the state of Nevada.”
Bush said ending social promotion narrowed Florida’s achievement gap between students from different ethnic and financial backgrounds.
“All the data suggest that if students start lagging behind at earlier grades, no matter how you inspire them to do better … they’re not going to learn math, science, history and have a purpose in their lives,” Bush said. “Getting that right early is really important.”
Sandoval renewed his pledge to support school choice. “That’s something that has been extremely successful in the state of Florida, to give parents the ability to choose where to send their kids with a voucher program,” he said. “That’s also something I’m going to pursue.”
Bush said he supports school choice despite critics who argue charter schools and online schools pull resources away from traditional schools. He said he has seen school choice — alternative online and charter schools and voucher programs — actually improve traditional public schools.
“By putting a consequence to continual mediocrity or failure … generally what happens is that public schools improve,” Bush said. “The beauty of charter schools like (Agassi Prep) is that it’s a model that people begin to say, ‘Why can’t my school have some of these attributes?’
“So done right, independent public and private schools that are successful offer an alternative that makes the traditional public schools better,” he said.
Clark County is already seeing some benefits of offering magnet and charter schools, Sandoval said. He pointed to the hundreds of wait-listed students at Southwest CTA as a sign to other high schools to “develop specialties so that they can be a place where kids want to stay or where parents want to send them.”
International tennis star Andre Agassi led the governors on a tour of his charter school Wednesday, which despite a few hiccups after it opened in 2001 has posted higher test scores and expanded its school from just 600 third- to fifth-graders to more than 1,000 K-12 students. This year, Agassi announced his foundation’s plans to help build 75 new charter schools across the country in the next two years.
For Agassi, having the governors tour his school validated his efforts to fix education in his hometown. He credited a longer school day, one-year teacher contracts and higher expectations for his school’s recent success.
“We don’t look at these children and consider them as society does, write them off,” Agassi said of his school, located right off of Martin Luther King Boulevard in an economically depressed area of town. “These are the kids we want because the results are proving that we can’t write any child off.