On Politics: Nevada schools don’t measure up | SierraSun.com

On Politics: Nevada schools don’t measure up

Jim Clark
On Politics

Last month, I penned a column bemoaning Nevada's 50th place standing in the Education Week "Quality Counts" ratings of each state's K-12 education systems.

I introduced the results of a study by the nonpartisan, non-ideological Kenny Guinn Institute of Las Vegas, which found a positive correlation between student achievement and school autonomy. The study compared Clark County's student achievement with that of similar-sized San Antonio (Bexar County), Texas, which is divided into 20 school districts. The Bexar county graduation rate is 88 percent compared with Clark County's 70 percent.

I wrote that in 2015 Nevada lawmakers ordered a serious effort to break the gigantic Clark County School District into smaller, more manageable school districts. I expressed my hope that the 96-school Washoe County School District might be similarly resized.

That column stimulated a really interesting responsive guest column by Tom Skancke, CEO of the firm hired to lead the Clark County School District's reorganization. The author goes into detail of just how a bloated, bureaucratic school district develops a "culture of fear" and loses sight of its obligation to efficiently educate kids.

It's such an informative writing that I won't attempt to summarize it. It was published in the July 13 edition of the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, and if you haven't read it you should get a copy. Thank you Mr. Skancke for sharing your invaluable experiences with us northerners.

That guest column inspired me to do some further research into the relationship between school district size and excellence (including student achievement). One of the most useful resources I found was the website http://www.niche.com. Niche.com is designed to enable its users to locate pockets of educational excellence in the United States. Among its analysis is a national ranking of America's 10,364 school districts using public statistical data as well as input from teachers, parents and students.

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Niche.com's grading system is based on student test scores, college readiness, graduation rates, and SAT/ACT scores with a lower weighting given to non-academic factors, such as teacher compensation, clubs and activities and subjective ratings by students and parents. The top 2.5 percent of America's school districts are given a grade of A+. Not surprisingly, none of Nevada's school districts attained that lofty score. Among our neighboring states, Arizona and Oregon also earned a goose egg. In Utah, Park City School District, with 12 schools, made the grade.

California, which scored only marginally above Nevada in the Education Week state-by-state ratings, has a bunch of stellar A+ school districts. Here they are in alphabetical order along with the number of schools in each: Acalanes (Lafayette)–five schools, Albany–six schools, Arcadia–11 schools, Beverly Hills–six schools, Carmel–seven schools, Conejo Valley (Thousand Oaks)–27 schools, Coronado–six schools, Fremont–six schools, Irvine–38 schools, La Canada–four schools, Laguna Beach–four schools, Los Alamitos-10 schools, Los Gatos–two schools, Manhattan Beach–8 schools, Mountain View/Los Altos–three schools, Oak Park (Los Angeles County)–eight schools, Palo Alto–19 schools, Palos Verdes Peninsula–19 schools, Piedmont City–12 schools, Poway (San Diego County)–38 schools, Redondo Beach–13 schools, St. Helena–four schools, San Dieguito (Encinitas)–11 schools, San Marino–four schools, San Mateo–eight schools, Santa Monica–16 schools, South Pasadena–five schools, and Tamalpais (Larkspur)–five schools.

Only four of these standout districts administer 27 or more schools. All four serve relatively homogeneous, upper middle-income areas. Of the remainder, the median number of schools is eight and communities served vary in diversity and family incomes from blue-collar Albany to ultra-wealthy Beverly Hills. But rich or poor, these districts all produce excellent educational outcomes for their children, and that's all that really matters.

In 1997, the Nevada Legislature approved a bill making Incline Village a separate school district. The measure was vetoed by then-Gov. Bob Miller. Time to dust that legislation off again?

Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at tahoesbjc@aol.com.