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Results released today from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as the Nation’s Report Card, seem to reinforce what educators have observed for decades – that making gains in academic proficiency for substantial populations of students generally remains a slow and difficult process.

For Nevada students in the eighth grade, 26 percent scored at grade-level proficiency or above in mathematics — the same level as in 2015, and two percentage points lower than their 2017 results.

In reading, Nevada’s eighth-grade students scored at or above proficient at a rate of 29 percent, or one percentage point above their performance in both 2015 and 2017, a gain considered not statistically significant by researchers.

Particularly concerning was the proportion of eighth-grade students, 38 percent in math and 31 percent in reading, who demonstrated skills considered “Below Basic” by the authors of the test. These results were three percentage points higher in math and two percentage points higher in reading than they were in 2015.

For eighth grade students, scoring at “Below Basic” levels on NAEP is usually considered a distressing predictor that these students will fail to graduate high school on time.  

Students demonstrating “Below Basic” skills in math indicate that they lack “partial mastery of the knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at a given grade.” In reading, “Below Basic” skills mean that they are unprepared to find information in a document or make connections between simple concepts in two different texts.

Steep achievement gaps between groups of students remain a troubling characteristic indicated by Nevada’s NAEP performance.  Students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches through the National School Lunch program remain twice as likely to score at “Below Basic” levels as their classmates who are not eligible.  In fact, half of all program-eligible students scored “Below Basic” in math, and 40 forty percent did so in reading.

Gaps along lines of race and ethnicity continue to prove just as problematic.  Among African-American eighth grade students, 62 percent scored “Below Basic” in math, while 44 percent did so in reading.  Hispanic eighth graders earned “Below Basic” scores at rates of 46 percent in math and 39 percent in reading, nearly twice the rate for white students.

Students in Nevada’s public charter schools performed at substantially higher levels — 26 percent proficient or above in math and 37 percent in reading, with 23 and 17 percent percent demonstrating skills at “Below Basic” levels, at the eight grade.

Federal officials responsible for NAEP have only recently been able to break out charter school students’ scores as the number of students served has increased.  But because Nevada’s charter schools overall serve student populations with real differences in certain demographic characteristics — 36 percent of state public charter school students were eligible for free or reduced price lunches as opposed to 61 percent of public school students overall — comparisons of student outcomes between the two sectors is complicated.  

It should be noted that moving toward greater demographic parity with state averages has been a priority for Nevada charter sector leaders, who have reported significant progress toward this goal on a yearly basis.

The NAEP is administered every other year at grades four, eight and twelve.  

The absence of compelling achievement gains will register as frustrating for Nevada’s education leaders.  But educators know that improved outcomes will not happen by magic. Large-scale improvements in our public education systems and the student academic outcomes they produce cannot be expected to happen overnight.  

At the rate of progress indicated by these latest NAEP results, such improvements are likely to take decades, absent major changes to the systems which drive them.  Decisionmakers intent on improving Nevada’s school outcomes in real, meaningful ways must begin with the fundamental step of acknowledging, and accepting responsibility, for making such changes a reality.

Will a proliferation of new microschools offer a better solution for a new generation of students?

A growing community within education believes they just might.

What is a microschool? While strict definitions are not common, microschools are typically described with these characteristics:

  • A microschool generally serves less than 25 students, and has only a minimal administrative staff, holding down costs.
  • A microschool can convene in a home or alternate setting, and can be organized as a public charter school, a private school, or a homeschooling co-op.

Read the Full Article at the Nevada Independent Here.

Democratic primary voters favor expanding access to public charter schools, while strengthening accountability for results, by a four-to-one margin, according to a new national poll released this week by the Benenson Strategy Group, hired by Democrats for Education Reform.

The poll found that 84 percent of African-American Democratic primary voters agreed with this view.

More than three out of five Democratic primary voters believe “we need to not only provide more funding for public schools, but also bring new ideas and make real changes to how schools operate.”  This total included 61 percent of Black Democratic primary voters and 63 percent of Latinx Democratic primary voters.”

Nevada voters, including specifically Democratic voters, have consistently stated even deeper support for increased educational options for families.  Last year, a poll of Nevadans found that Clark County Democrats expressed support for the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program at a rate of 68 percent in favor, and just 27 percent opposed.

The same voters said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who made the statement, “We need to raise salaries for all teachers and use extra pay and incentives to diversify teaching and recruit great teachers in hard-to-staff subjects and high-need schools.”

The poll was published October 7, 2019.

It’s late May, and even though the temperature in the auditorium has crept beyond comfort level, the room is filled with patient parents, grandparents, and extended family members. They are here to watch their students perform in this year’s fourth and final University Night, a collection of art, performance, culture, and history. 120 kindergarten and first grade students line the edge of the room, waiting for their entrance cue. A year ago this school didn’t exist, but tonight Nevada Rise is standing room only.

A year ago, this packed auditorium was a church sanctuary. In fact, it still is every Sunday. That’s one of the struggles in opening a new school of choice in Las Vegas–finding a suitable space. Nevada Rise, a tuition-free public charter school, shares the church with another charter school, Nevada Prep, Monday through Friday. 

The school was designed to serve kids with limited educational options. Justin Brecht, Executive Director of Nevada Rise, struggled to find a suitable facility in a high-need part of town and had to think creatively; the shared church works. It’s situated on a residential street between two gated communities (it’s rumored that Don King lives in one of them), and right around the corner is Section 8 housing. Its location draws a large mix of kids–the school’s student population is  51% Latino, 28% Black, 10% two or more races, 8% White, and 2% Asian/Pacific Islander.

The Nevada Rise team succeeded in finding the student student population it sought.  In its first year, 88 percent of its students qualified for free or reduced-price meals under the federal school lunch program, a measure of household income.  In fact, 76 percent of its students qualified under the “free lunch” requirement, according to official records. Each of these numbers place Nevada Rise as among the schools in all of Nevada serving the highest rates of students in these groups.

Eight years ago, Mr. Brecht was a teacher in CCSD when he had an innovative idea–he asked his principal if he could extend the school day for his class to incorporate more movement, art, and character education. Students opted into the class, called Brick, and made a commitment to attend the extra hours and to work to meet rigorous academic expectations. At the end of the first year, students in Brick were at the top of their school, outperforming all other classes. As Brick’s success grew over the years, Mr. Brecht began to plan to create a school based on its success. 

He did so with the support of Building Excellent Schools, a fellowship designed to prepare school leaders to build and lead high-performing charter schools. He spent his fellowship year planning every aspect of his new school, and receives regular, ongoing support from the program now that his school has opened. The school also receives ongoing support from Opportunity 180, a nonprofit focused on changing educational outcomes for kids in Nevada. The nonprofit highlighted Nevada Rise in its Great Classrooms Video Series.

At Nevada Rise, the bones of Brick are apparent. Academic and behavioral expectations are high. Every student practices visual and performing arts. Yoga is a regular part of the curriculum. And just like at Brick, students at Nevada Rise outperformed their peers: NWEA Map tests from the first year placed most Nevada Rise students in the 99th percentile for growth in reading and math compared to other students across the country. This means that Rise students performed better than 99% of other students in similar schools, in similar neighborhoods, from similar backgrounds. Nevada Rise is poised to make a real difference for its students. 

Families drive from all over the Las Vegas valley to attend Nevada Rise. One family drives an hour each way, twice a day, to bring their daughter to the school. Her father looked at several options closer to home before running across Mr. Brecht at a recruiting event. When he heard Mr. Brecht’s passion for providing a high-quality education to kids in high-need areas, he knew it was the right fit for his daughter. There was nothing near home that he felt could provide Rise’s unique mix of culture, character, and academics. That’s the beauty of school choice: every student can have access to a school that meets their unique needs. 

The unique nature of Nevada Rise has led to some difficulties in staffing. Talented teachers are already hard to come by, and Rise teachers also have to be great with classroom management, comfortable with constant feedback on their work, and committed to working with a high-needs population. “Talent matters,” Mr. Brecht said; one of the hardest lessons he learned in year one came from looking back at hiring decisions. “You can build all the systems and structures for an effective school, but you need the right people to facilitate. Finding those people can be hard.” By the end of year one, he had made changes to his hiring practices. “It’s an ongoing process,” he said. “If the focus isn’t 100% on student growth, the school will fall short of its goals.” 

One of his new hires this year, Desiree Brumfield, went through the revised process. She completed a phone interview, an in-person interview, taught a model lesson to a small group of students, then waited two grueling months to get word. “I moved to Nevada from Kentucky to work with Justin. I believe in the work he’s doing and I see the difference it’s making for kids.” The days are long, she says, and the work is hard, but it’s also rewarding. 

And tonight, in this packed church-sanctuary-turned-auditorium, the reward is clear. Each class performs a song and dance routine, and many eyes fill with tears of pride at the sight. At the end of the night, a lone mylar balloon is left floating high under the ceiling, and Mr. Brecht climbs a chair and uses a broom handle to pull it down. A balloon might be okay in a school auditorium, but it would be out of place come Sunday Morning. It’s 8:30 PM, and he’s been here since 6:00 this morning. The days are long, and the work is hard, but it’s also rewarding. 

Eight years ago Mr. Brecht was a teacher with an innovative idea, and now he’s running the school that grew from that idea. If you’d like to be a part of Nevada Rise, as an enrolled family, an advocate, or a supporter, you can reach the school at 702-336-7060. 

Thank you to this distinguished commission of experts for making time from your busy lives and careers to lead this historic and vitally important undertaking.

As you move this legislatively-directed process forward, I would encourage you to consider two guiding priorities in your work.

First, that equitable educational opportunity for all of Nevada’s learners serve as a guiding principle for your recommendations. Families, and households, fortunate to have choices of schools to meet their learners’ educational needs, do so for diverse reasons — so the diversity of high-quality schools serving our elementary and secondary students reflects these different priorities. In Nevada , we have schools of right – traditional district-run schools with defined geographic attendance zones, and schools of choice, where students apply to attend and lotteries generally determine placement when demand exceeds number of available seats. These learners are all Nevadans, and deserve equitable educational opportunities, and equitable school funding.

Second, that your school funding recommendations include weighted funding for student risk factors that pay for the increased, real costs associated with risk factors. Currently, Nevada law recognizes only one of a learner’s status as an English Leaner, a child with identified special needs, a gifted and talented learner, or an at-risk learner, defined as a one who is eligible for free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Program, meaning their household income is up to 185% of federal poverty levels. But the law grants flexibility to modify this definition.

I look forward to providing this Commission with up-to-date research about the specific factors other states utilize for their at-risk learner funding designations. Today these include designating different weights for free lunch eligibility versus reduced-price lunch eligibility, status as a homeless or foster youth, over-age and under-accredited high-school learners, pattern of unsatisfactory performance on state standardized assessments, and eligibility for the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program programs.

Evidence shows consistently that it costs schools more to serve these groups of students with equity and fidelity, and I hope that Nevada’s school funding model will address this disparity.

Thank you for your admirable service.