Jim ClarkSpecial to the Bonanza

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December 26, 2012
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Jim Clark: Nevada K-12 education headed for a shake-up?

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. - A Washoe County businessmen's association hosted Nevada State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jim Guthrie at a morning meeting in Reno earlier this month. Present at the event were UNR President Marc Johnson and Washoe County School Chief Pedro Martinez.Dr. Guthrie was recruited earlier this year by Governor Sandoval to effect significant changes in Nevada's K-12 education system. Guthrie did not mince many words. He began by announcing that every 11 minutes a Nevada student drops out of the public school system. He went on to say that based on the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress testing of Nevada 4th graders (administered by the US Department of Education to test students on a uniform basis) only 39 percent of Anglos and 19 percent of Latinos are reading proficient.He said that Nevada's K-12 public education system flatly doesn't work because it is a "government shielded cartel" in which employees lack any motivation to excel. He cited several exceptions to his opinion which he had visited the prior day (Cervantes School, Mariposa Academy and Davidson Academy) but added that these outstanding examples are not the rule.He sees teacher tenure as a real impediment to improving the quality of education. He maintains that it is granted too generously (principals in one year, teachers in three) after which they effectively cannot be terminated and have little motivation to excel. The biggest problem is that it protects poor performers and that entrepreneurial educators who do want to improve matters have no control over the quality of the system.He discussed the means by which he intends to effect changes in the Silver State's education system. First is the "bully pulpit" - opportunities such as the one at present to persuade influential individuals of the need for improvement. Second will be an effective system of measurement of progress. "If it is measured," he said, "it will improve."Third was "human capital" ... teachers and administrators. "We no longer have the best people seeking teaching careers," he said. "Nothing is more effective than a good teacher." He said we need to change the licensing process because it is outdated and discourages experienced professionals from seeking teaching jobs. Dr. Guthrie would like to create a system of "master teachers" who could earn at a level that would attract the best qualified.Fourth, Dr. Guthrie sees competition as a means to improve public education in Nevada. Of the nearly 450,000 students in Nevada only 13,000 are currently in charter schools. He plans a significant expansion in new charters starting immediately. He also intends to pursue a system of tax incented corporate scholarships so minority students in particular can have the means to attend top rated private schools.Washoe Superintendent Pedro Martinez announced to the group that he plans to implement a "STEM" (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) signature academy in every high school in Washoe County and is also preparing on line classes by which students can learn time management skills and discipline. He is also working with UNR to find space to develop a laboratory program for engineering and science.UNR President Marc Johnson told the group that 35 percent of students entering UNR need remedial math and English classes which takes resources away from academic courses and makes it almost impossible for those students to graduate in four years. Conversely, UNR attracts many National Merit scholars so his challenge is to provide for both lower and higher achievers simultaneously. So it appears that Nevada K-12 education is headed for a shake up and that Nevada's higher education administrators are watching closely.- Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates and has served on the Washoe County and Nevada State GOP Central Committees; he can be reached at tahoesbjc@aol.com.

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Dec 26, 2012 09:26PM Published Dec 26, 2012 09:25PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.