Wednesday, July 24, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Kim Metcalf has big plans for UNLV's College of Education.
The new education dean wants the university to maintain its standing as the top producer of teachers in Nevada and continue building its reputation as a solid teaching preparation program.
Metcalf also believes UNLV should become the place where state leaders turn for credible information about Nevada's schools and education policies.
"It's not enough to take care of our college or CCSD," Metcalf said. "We have the capacity and responsibility to contribute to the broader dialogues about teaching practices and policies. We have the potential to influence educational policy and practice — not just in Southern Nevada, but nationwide."
Metcalf is adamant he does not want to establish the scholarly agenda for the college. He plans to leave that up to the faculty.
However, Metcalf hopes to encourage UNLV professors to study new trends in public education.
These topics of research — some of which are already being undertaken by professors — include new models of teacher preparation and evaluation, the effect of "school-choice" policies and ways technology can enhance classroom learning.
Metcalf comes to UNLV with a wealth of knowledge about school-choice initiatives, such as voucher programs and charter schools. Nevada, with its libertarian leanings, has a burgeoning school-choice movement and leads the nation in charter school enrollment growth.
School choice is a hotly-debated education topic nationally.
Proponents argue parents should have the right to decide the best education for their children, whether it's a public, magnet, charter, private, parochial or home school.
Critics argue alternative schools — such as charters and voucher-funded private and parochial schools — siphon much-needed taxpayer money away from traditional public schools.
Regardless of one’s stance on school choice and other hot-button issues, Metcalf hopes UNLV's faculty and research can earn the credibility of both sides of the debate.
"My responsibility is to try to build the trust of the governor and policymakers who might worry about what our ideological agenda might be, so we can participate in those conversations," Metcalf said. "If we can find ways to communicate with them so they can trust us to not be promoting our own ideology, I think we can provide a real service."
As the former director of Indiana University's Center for Evaluation, Metcalf spearheaded a major study of school-voucher programs and charter schools in Cleveland. His seven-year, multimillion-dollar study examined why parents opted against public schools and how their children fared in nontraditional schools.
Metcalf found few parents exercised their school-choice options, but parents who did were generally more satisfied with their children's education than parents who didn't — regardless of how well their school did academically. Parents generally chose their children's school not necessarily because of its academic record, but its reputation and the socio-economic status of its student body.
The study's results on student achievement were inconclusive, Metcalf said. Test scores of children who used school vouchers or charter schools were mixed and varied widely.
Metcalf hopes to encourage UNLV faculty to conduct similar research on Nevada's charter schools. He also would like to evaluate Gov. Brian Sandoval's school voucher proposal, if it passes the 2015 legislative session.
"Parental choice in whatever form it takes is going to continue to increase," Metcalf said. "If it's done well, I think the notion of giving families more voice in how their children are educated could probably be a good thing."
There are serious implications for this kind of research, Metcalf said. Lawmakers must take care to craft a school-choice policy that truly benefits children from low-income families — not just those with the know-how to effectively navigate the system.
"If the policy itself isn't structured properly, it can exacerbate differences in the haves and have-nots," Metcalf said. "My fear is if we don't do these things well, we could end up creating a system that completely neglects a segment of the population who won't have the capacity to do any better."
Metcalf plans to encourage research on other issues pertinent to Nevada.
He hopes to reconstruct the university's English-language teaching program, which was decimated by budget cuts, so UNLV graduates can better engage the 55,000 English-language learner students in Nevada. UNLV has partnered with the Clark County School District to provide special reading skills centers at 14 elementary schools to help ELL students work on their literacy skills.
Metcalf also hopes UNLV can work with the School District to study whether the district's technology initiatives – such as the iPad program – are actually helping students academically.
"There's real need for research in that realm," Metcalf said. "In fact the research is lagging behind the available technology."
Metcalf also would like to emphasize research on teacher preparation in light of a recent report by the National Council on Teacher Quality that found Nevada's teacher preparation programs were severely lacking.
Although Metcalf – along with many education deans across the country – found serious problems with the NCTQ study, he said the report reopened the debate on what good teacher training models should look like and how UNLV's College of Education can improve.
"It's an exciting time to be in education," Metcalf said. "It's a little frightening, but this uncertainty and dynamism give us the opportunity to try some very unique things."