How Should We Focus Our Education Conversations?
As we gear up for the next state election cycle, Nevada Succeeds is committed to ensuring that the provision of a high-quality education for all of our students is a central focus for candidates. Because public education in Nevada is such a big part of the state budget (approximately 45%), it is typically a main focus for our political candidates and eventually those who get elected. Unfortunately, the majority of conversations surrounding K-12 education often revolve around the problems rather than how to systemically solve them. Nevada is not unique in this regard. Indeed, in most states there is a large gap between what we believe policies will achieve and what actually happens in the classroom. That being said, as we move to the next election cycle, we need to engage candidates and elected officials in conversations about how to ensure that we not only have enough money in the education system, but that any and all money that we spend there has the most significant impact.
So, let’s start with a conversation about where the majority of our public education tax dollars actually go. More than 80% of that pays for the human talent we entrust to educate the state’s students. What does that mean, though? Quite simply, it means that most of the money spent on education in Nevada pays our teachers, principals, support professionals, and other licensed personnel. This is good, because research shows that the most significant impact on learning in schools is the quality of the instructional experience for the student.
This is essentially why some organizations and people believe, for example, that charter or private schools are the answer to increasing student achievement. The line of reasoning there is that charter and private schools are providing the highest quality of instruction. Certainly some of these types of schools do provide quality instruction and have the student achievement, graduation rates, etc. to show for it. Across the board, however, when comparing charter and private schools, research does not show any greater success than traditional public schools at scale.
What consistently produces strong student achievement and student learning in any type of school is high-quality, meaningful and responsive instruction. Nevada has not yet figured out how to ensure every student has this type of instructional experience.
We must ensure that we put into place the policies and systems that support educators from the beginning of their careers through the end. We have made some recent progress in this policy area in Nevada. The adoption of the Nevada Educator Performance Framework (NEPF) for teachers and principals is a step toward ensuring that educators are held to industry recognized standards for professional, responsive instruction and interaction. Without the corresponding common practice, however, of using it correctly as a tool for improvement and growth it will not help improve the aggregate quality of teaching statewide. Nevada has also implemented new assessments for students that are considered rigorous and can give an accurate representation of our students’ achievement, but again, these are only meaningful if used in such a way that they guide instruction or adjust teaching practices as needed.
So, before we talk about where to spend money in education, we need to have a very honest conversation with elected officials and candidates about how to ensure that we have well-prepared, fully supported educators in each and every Nevada classroom. This means we need to look at the types of standards (for all educators, not just teachers) for preparation, licensing, certification, re-licensing and professional development that we have in the state. We invite you to be a part of this conversation and look forward to hearing your thoughts.