Mary Alber
Special to the Bonanza

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December 20, 2012
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Incline education: how to progress?

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. - In last week's column, I initiated a review of public school performance to understand where we are on the education journey to excellence. Thanks for the conversations and e-mails of support and sorry to those who were displeased to see the stark data.

This column aims to help us transcend the discomfort of current reality as we work to support unquestionably exceptional education. How exciting to count four other articles in last week's issue that all spoke to education system change needs. I'll briefly recap each one in the context of our local situation and opportunities.

Ed Gurowitz described a central reason for the "dumbing down" of our US public education system: "teaching to the test" of outdated minimum proficiency benchmarks. As he and our education leaders are now acknowledging, current measures reward mediocrity, so that's what we've been getting. Teachers and administrators can't be blamed for diligently trying to meet measures that don't reward "excellence."

To address this problem, WCSD and state education leaders have adopted new measures based on individual learning growth rates, combined with percentage of students achieving above-minimum proficiency levels. In addition, the Common Core State Standards have set higher bars for "proficiency" while adding new 21st century learning goals such as critical reading, thinking, communicating, and problem solving that are harder to teach and assess.

Since performance data shows teachers struggling to get all students to meet existing standards, how can they push them to higher levels, at a faster rate, and teach and assess the new skills?

In Jim Clark's column, he advised the GOP to be more concerned about inclusivity and equal opportunity for Hispanic citizens. Translated to education, I believe he endorses the closing of ethnicity performance gaps found in many public schools - including ours. The great news is that we have a growing number of schools and districts around the country which have eliminated such gaps and we can and should be one of them.

In fact, one of the goals of the proposed Nevada charter school here was to close the gap (DL1) through English language mastery and learning customized to the developmental needs of each student.

According to Kathryn Kelly's interview on the withdrawal of the NV charter application, she said that the majority of input she has received supports re-submitting the application next summer. Sounds like there will be further pressure on the Nevada Department of Education to allow for the kinds of innovative teaching and learning approaches that inspire and enable stronger student outcomes for all.

Then in Stacey Cooper's article, she describes how the high school's distance learning lab is enabling our rural school students to connect real-time with peers, professionals and teachers anywhere in the world. I very much appreciate her and the district leadership's awareness of how broader, deeper uses of technology in learning and assessment will be essential to all students being able to achieve the new performance expectations.

In fact, my research reveals that the only way to close performance gaps and challenge and engage each student at the growth edge of their passions and abilities is through "blended learning" with one-to-one use of technology and individuated learning paths. This paradigm means that every student has a dedicated device at school and/or home for self-paced content learning and assessments complemented by face-to-face engaged learning labs, projects and workshops with peers and teachers.

On the NV DOE website, I saw that all of IHS computers are 5 or more years old. With no capital budget for upgrades for another 3 to 5 years, community support and partnering will be essential to implementing blended and 21st century skills learning.

As I think we all agree, this community has outstanding potential to become a hub for truly exciting, world-class education for all ages and backgrounds. But are we capable of working together to support and realize such potential? Or by continued inaction will we let alternatives (such as an NV charter) fill the void while current schools fall behind the tsunami wave of education change?

Stay tuned for the next column in this series: How can we evaluate and discuss these and other education-related ideas to move forward as a community instead of stagnating? How can we collaborate to help all students achieve their greatest potentials?

- Mary Alber is an Incline Village resident with two children in local schools and an advocate for 21st century learning opportunities. She holds a PhD in Transformative Learning and Change. She may be reached for comment at

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Dec 20, 2012 01:06PM Published Dec 20, 2012 01:03PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.