R. Marsh Starks / UNLV Photo Services
Monday, Dec. 7, 2015 | 6:20 p.m.
Nevada’s ongoing teacher shortage and the Silver State’s status as a barometer for education issues across the country were among the concerns that took top billing in a first-ever UNLV education summit on Monday.
The summit, organized by the UNLV College of Education, drew a who’s who of state education leaders with a marquee appearance by Gov. Brian Sandoval, whose sweeping education reforms at this year’s Legislature formed the impetus for the event.
“It really offers us an opportunity to pause and reflect about all the implementation work that’s being accomplished here in Nevada in transforming our education system,” said Sandoval.
But much of that work hinges on whether Nevada will be able to address the teacher shortage, a topic of special focus for those in attendance. It’s an especially important issue for the UNLV College of Education, one of the state’s largest producer of teachers.
In recent years the state’s education colleges have not produced nearly enough teachers to fill classrooms.
At the event on Monday, Sandoval again called the shortage “a crisis,” a term he uses often.
“The teacher shortage is not just here,” said College of Education Dean Kim Metcalf. “Folks are watching what happens in Nevada. They’re watching to see what we do and how we do it and how it works.”
Participants — including former state superintendent Dale Erquiaga, U.S. Education Department adviser Ann Whalen and Clark County Schools Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky — praised lawmakers' attempts to provide incentives and scholarships for new teachers.
But the shortage looms large over CCSD, which struggles to fill nearly 3,000 teaching positions each year. At the beginning of this school year the district was short 900 teachers, a number that is only getting larger.
“There’s no short-term fix for the teacher pipeline,” said Skorkowsky. “Even if we have an amazing enrollment class at the college of education … that is four years away from actually making a real dent.”
“We have to realize that everything we do in the state of Nevada has to be toward that goal,” he added.
Colin Seale, founder of thinkLaw, a group that advocates using real life legal cases to teach critical thinking to students, said the falling popularity of teaching has coincided with the rise of better-paying professions.
“Our education programs are not attracting the most talented folks out of high school and they’re not the most competitive programs at universities,” he said. “What are we going to do to make this the place where people want to be? There has to be some sort of long-term solution.”
And what Nevada does could be a model for states around the country, not just for the teacher shortage but for education as a whole, some attendees argued.
“We are in some ways the future of the country,” said Metcalf. “It’s not just racial and ethnic diversity ... Many of the other community and state issues we are dealing with will be faced by many other states and communities.”
Nevada, a unique mix of rural and urban, poor and wealthy with a diverse racial makeup, often sees those same attributes resurface as disparities in classroom technology between urban and rural counties as well as underperforming schools in largely poor and minority areas. But recent strides to address the problems are making an impact, according to Whalen.
“You are a model for what other states can do to really move the needle,” she said. “We look to states like Nevada who are leading the way in their state investment.”
And though the summit featured a pair of expert panel discussions on a number of education issues, the uncertainty about Nevada’s educational future was hard to avoid.
“There’s no playbook for where we’re going,” said Punam Mathur, director of the Elaine P. Wynn and Family Foundation.