Next Up Blog

Throughout the near-daily meetings held by Nevada’s legislative education committees this session, it has resonated clearly that our lawmakers are not satisfied with the current state of Nevada’s K-12 education system.

This feeling comes well-grounded for solid reasons.

Overall, less than one-third of Nevada’s fourth-grade students are performing at grade-level proficiency in reading, an established indicator for future success. At least as alarming is the reality that two out of five of these students’ classmates show reading skills considered “below basic.” On another crucial indicator, eighth-grade math, students scored at very similar rates in both categories.

These findings came on the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress, the program known as “The Nation’s Report Card.”

Nevadans share this dissatisfaction, according to a new poll about how they feel about education and school choice. They want their public schools to improve. And, across a wide range of groups — including ethnic, racial and political party identification — they strongly support school choice programs and want opportunities for their own children to attend schools of choice.

The new poll, published by Nevada Action for School Options and EdChoice and based on scientific polling of 1,200 Nevada adults, offers a number of important insights on how Nevadans feel about their current schooling options.

■ Forty-eight percent of Nevada Hispanics and 34 percent of African-Americans said that if financial cost and transportation were of no concern, they would select private schooling to obtain the best education for their child. This compares with 28 percent who would prefer a regular public school and 22 percent who would prefer a charter school. These rates far exceed the supply of available seats in schools of choice, as only 4 percent of Nevada K-12 students are enrolled in private school today and 10 percent are enrolled in charter schools.

■ More than two-thirds of Nevada’s Hispanics (70 percent), and African-Americans (69 percent) support Nevada’s Opportunity Scholarship program. Support is even higher among parents of school-aged children within these groups.

■ Among parents of school-aged children, 80 percent agree that educational choice initiatives such as the currently unfunded Education Savings Account program, should be available to all families, regardless of their level of household income.

■ Support for Nevada’s public charter schools was also strong, favored by 73 percent of Hispanics and 66 percent of African-Americans.While the poll offered many indications that Nevadans are dissatisfied with the quality of options available to them from their traditional public schools, the answers from respondents reflected an urgency for better options for their children while our system of public education works to improve.

Projections from the Census Bureau suggest that the rapid growth of our state’s school-aged population will continue, and even escalate, over the coming decade.

Our public school systems, and especially Clark County schools, are already showing signs of strain, as evidenced by the many teachers who regularly testify to the Legislature about class sizes bordering on unmanageable. Our schools of choice are one solution that represents a bargain for taxpayers on many levels. This makes their role in Nevada’s education ecosystems an important one, especially given their strong popularity with families.

As Nevada’s public schools persistently rank near the bottom of national studies, one finding from this latest poll offers a bright sign of hope. Nevadans frequently make real sacrifices to support their children’s schooling: The poll found that one-third of Nevadans have moved closer to a desirable school, while three out of 10 have taken an additional job to support their children’s educations.  This stands as an indication that Nevadans care a great deal about school quality.

As our decision-makers deliberate competing budget priorities, new funding formulas and other important factors, they should be mindful that their constituents feel strongly about having diverse school choices to meet their children’s needs.

This article originally appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Don Soifer is president of Nevada Action for School Options, a nonprofit organization committed to supporting the growth of diverse educational opportunities for all Nevada students.

Nevada Action’s Don Soifer interviewed about Nevada education, and updated recent developments in the Nevada Legislature concerning schools.  The 12-minute interview aired Sunday, March 3 on Northern Nevada’s Lotus Radio stations KUUB 94.5, KDOT 104.5 and KHIT 1450.


New Private Security Guard Requirements

AB 184

Proposes to increase the requirements, including training requirements and screenings, for private security officers, including those working in public or private schools.  It would also specify penalties for crimes committed against a security guard.

Private security guards who carry firearms would be required to complete 40 hours of specific, comprehensive new training.  Guards not authorized to carry firearms would be required to complete other training sessions.  Screening for controlled substances, other than marijuana, would also be required.

The bill, sponsored by Assembly Members Miller, Benitez-Thompson, Monroe-Moreno, Fumo, McCurdy and Thompson, is referred to the Commerce and Labor Committee.

School Safety

SB 142

Sponsored by Assembly Members Tolles, Spiegel and Roberts, updates requirements for all public, including district and charter schools, focused on school safety.

The bill contains specific requirements for school safety teams, including members with specific school roles and qualifications, including a school psychologist or social worker.  It also assigns to school safety committees ongoing obligations to review and address bullying and cyber-bullying.

It also strengthens and updates the schools SafeVoice Program to ensure confidential reporting relating to any dangerous, violent or unlawful activities at schools, on school buses, or by enrolled pupils.

School choice programs had positive net fiscal impacts on school districts when student funding was weighted.  Half of the school districts studied benefited fiscally from the resulting student transfers from the implementation of private school choice. Source: State and District Fiscal Effects of a Universal Education Savings Account Program in Arkansas Julie R. Trivitt, Ph.D. Corey A. DeAngelis January 24, 2017 EDRE Working Paper 2017-04.

Question of the Week

“What is Nevada’s higher education system doing to lower the cost of higher education?”

Asked by Senator Dallas Harris of NSHE Chancellor Thom Reilly at Feb 20 hearing

Opportunity Scholarship Students Post Important Academic GrowthEarlier this month, the Nevada Department of Education (NDE) published its first report assessing academic outcomes of students in the Nevada Opportunity Scholarship Program.   The analysis showed encouraging results: 68.4 percent of students participating in the program for all three of its years were determined to show positive score change; 65.7 percent of students in the program for two consecutive students also posted outcomes deemed positive by the NDE analysts.

It is important to observe that these results were measured on six different assessments different students were administered under the rules of the program. The law (AB165) which established the Opportunity Scholarship program allowed participating private schools to select the test they used, and the dates it is given, from a list of norm-referenced assessments approved by the NDE.

Some lawmakers, and particularly Moises (Mo) Denis, chair of Nevada’s Senate Education Committee, have on numerous occasions expressed their intent to review student outcomes for the program as part of their oversight process.

So, how do these results compare with test scores for Nevada’s public school students? The answer, unfortunately, is complicated.

One major complicating factor is that Smarter Balanced assessment which public school students in Nevada are administered, is a criterion-referenced assessment, in which a student’s performance is compared to a specific learning objective or achievement standard (e.g., state standards) and not the performance of other students. On the other hand, norm-referenced assessments (the type used in this program), compare students’ performance with that of a larger sample (the norm group), frequently a national sample representing a representatively diverse cross-section of students.

Can results on these different tests be compared meaningfully? Yes, when done using certain, valid methodologies. Outcomes on the different norm-referenced assessments can be usefully compared, especially when examining the growth of individual students over time, as the NDE report does.

In similar ways, it is also even possible to consider student growth of these students with the growth of Nevada’s public school students on the state assessments. For sake of comparison, between 2017 and 2018, Nevada’s public school students in grades 3-8 gained one percentage point of proficiency in English Language arts, and 1.5 percentage points in grades 3-7 in math (excluding eighth grade because of curricular content changes in math which produced test score anomalies).

Of course, the two student populations here contain various essential differences: only lower-income students are eligible to participate in the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the NDE study only included students enrolled in the same school for consecutive years, etc.

It is quite common among the nation’s top charter school oversight authorities to evaluate the effectiveness of schools in their purview using students’ longitudinal growth on these same norm-referenced assessments. This practice allows them to evaluate these schools’ performance with students over the time they are enrolled without penalizing schools that go out of their way to attract those previously underserved students who need them most.

These same norm-referenced assessments also hold important educational value to schools which use the results for individual students formatively, to help classroom teachers target specific instructional interventions and lessons. Some Nevada private schools give the assessments as many as three times each year for this purpose.

The NDE report met the legislature’s requirement for the program. In future years, if policymakers want to strengthen the evaluation, they would be well served to consider doing what other states, including Florida, have done, and assign modest funding to allow the state’s colleges of education to bid for the quantitative analysis work. In the hands of experts like these, the norming and standardization scales used be each test published can be evaluated with methodology allowing for broader, more robust, and easier-compared analyses.

Meanwhile, educators and families involved with the Opportunity Scholarship Program have good reason to express pride in these student outcomes, and hope that policymakers will accept them as strong indications of its educational value for the students it serves.