• Meredith Smith, Director of Policy

A Follow-Up: How Should we Focus Our Education Conversations?

Earlier this month, Nevada Succeeds invited the community to engage in policy discussions about the systemic changes around which the state needs to develop consensus. We are thrilled with the interest we have received from the community so far and look forward to these continued conversations. Our first published example of this engagement was featured on our blog last week in the form of a response from UNLV College of Education Dean Kim Metcalf to Nevada Succeeds’ August 10 piece “How Should we Focus Our Education Conversations,” Below we continue this conversation.

Dean Metcalf brought up the importance of looking at the outside factors to student achievement and argued that “The vast majority (80 to 90 percent) of student achievement is a result of demographic and socioeconomic factors that lie well outside the control of the school. These factors include the quality of the language environment in a child's home; parent (or, in more recent research, primary caregivers') income, education level, and verbal ability; and similar community/family related factors.” While he is correct, I would ask then what is it about schools that do produce (and I use this word with reservation because I do truly believe education is not about “production” of education, perhaps that’s a blog for another day) high test scores, high graduation rates, high student engagement, etc. in spite of what are typically considered factors outside of school control? There are many examples of schools and students that are performing well despite demographic diversity and socio-economic challenges.

To his next point, I further agree that we cannot look at education policy solutions in isolation of other policy solutions as a way to ensure all students are educated well. While the work of Nevada Succeeds is focused specifically within the education system, we increasingly see examples of schools and excellent school leadership taking steps to mitigate the external impacts that Dean Metcalf is referencing. We see schools in this community and across the nation offering services such as literacy classes to parents, on-site laundry services so students have clean clothes when they go to school, wellness clinics with a range of physical and mental health services, as well as other”wrap-around” services.

I think, and I hope, that as a state (and a country) we will continue to evolve policy solutions to be “multidisciplinary”. This requires people who work in education and education policy to have a strong understanding of factors that impact student achievement and requires them to make appropriate connections to experts in other fields. As an example, I don’t think we can effectively discuss the cost of ensuring an educated workforce unless we also discuss the cost of how much we spend on prisons and medicaid. Research shows us time and time again that we will reduce incarceration and recidivism rates and have a significantly more healthy population if we invest in education effectively.

Dean Metcalf also discussed that “Our acute shortage of licensed teachers has made it difficult to have a conversation about this and, instead, has tended to lead us to adopt looser and looser standards for professional licensing of educators” and the idea that it’s “better to have a minimally licensed teacher in a classroom than a long-term substitute or no teacher at all. But there is little data to support this.” He is absolutely correct. In fact, when looking at the world’s most successful school systems, it is clear that they have invested in ensuring that every teacher is qualified and ready to teach students well when they enter the classroom. Some of the common elements of these systems include robust clinical experience prior to full licensure, formalized systems of mentorship and support for beginning educators, and a very selective process for entry into educator preparation programs. That is not what exists in Nevada right now, and while ARL programs (and traditional programs for that matter) do have student teaching elements, none of them in practice look like what research shows us produces the results we all want for our students. In addition, the school systems that educators go into in Clark County specifically, do not provide appropriate support for all new educators. Washoe County school system has a PAR program for all new and new to the district teachers, and while Clark County has a PAR program, it only serves a small percentage of CCSD teachers.

I want to thank Dean Metcalf for taking his time and expertise to engage in this important conversation. I hope you will tell us what you think by leaving a comment on one of our posts, reaching out to us on Twitter or Facebook, filling out our Contact Us form or by emailing me directly at

Meredith Smith

Policy Director, Nevada Succeeds


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