Can Every Student Succeed?
Nevada’s Lofty Classroom Goals
Officials: State’s Dismal Report Card Based On Old Data
By Frank X. Mullen
The Silver State bottomed at 51st place out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in Education Week magazine’s latest Quality Counts report, a national comparison of the quality of public education in each state.
But state officials say the survey is based on old (2015) data and doesn’t account for recent gains made in the wake of increased investment — $500 million in new initiatives — and recent changes to its school improvement policies. Nevada lawmakers in 2015 added $343 million in new education funding and in 2017 added $152 million more for programs, according to the Nevada Department of Education.
In the Quality Counts report, the state earned an overall grade of D for the second year in a row; the country’s average is a C grade. The Silver State scored a D+ in the “chance for success” category; a D- in “school finance”; and earned a D in “K-12 achievement.”
Nevada was last in the overall Education Week rankings, with low scores in many individual categories including: high school graduation rate, 73.6 percent (2nd lowest); 8th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress proficiency, 26.1 percent (math) and 27.4 percent (reading); adults with at least a bachelor’s degree, 23.5 percent (6th lowest); and adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 44.6 percent (7th lowest).
Nevada ranks the fifth-lowest for education funding, spending an average of $8,801 per student. The states that rank at the top of education quality lists spend more than double that amount per student. Massachusetts and Vermont, for example, spend between $15,000 and $20,000 per student. The state spends only 2.8 percent of its taxable resources on schools, as compared with the 3.3 percent average across all states.
Other national rankings also gave Nevada the lowest grades overall and in many key areas: Kids Count (2017): 49 of 50 overall; fourth-grade math, Nation’s Report Card (2015), 48 of 53; eighth-grade math, Nation’s Report Card (2015), 44 of 53; fourth-grade reading, Nation’s Report Card (2015), 47 of 52; and eighth-grade reading, Nation’s Report Card (2015), 44 of 52.
Nevada has the most lopsided student-to-teacher ratio in the nation for the second year in a row, according to the 2018 National Education Association Rankings and Statistics. The state’s ratio is 25.86 average students per teacher. That means Nevada has the most crowded classrooms in the country, followed by Arizona and Utah.
Steve Canavero, superintendent of public instruction at the Nevada Department of Education cautioned that the data used in 2018 reports are three years old and the rankings “tells us where Nevada was, not where we’re going.”
Nevada’s advances in education since 2015 include the Victory and Zoom programs for English language learners and those in poverty, a Read by Grade 3 initiative, money for a Great Teaching and Leading Fund, Nevada Ready 21 for technology education, an Under performing Turnaround Program, Career and Technical Education, and the College and Career Ready Grant.
Officials say some initiatives are already bearing fruit. In 2017, the state’s elementary school students improved their math scores on the Smarter Balanced test, with 40.65 percent reaching proficiency. The state also has an increased graduation rate of 80.55 percent (as compared to the 73.6 percent in the Education Week report based on 2015 data). And for the second year in a row, Nevada students led the nation in the rate at which they improved their performance on advanced placement exams. The state also has fast-improving numbers in students’ access to advanced placement courses.
“Really rare you see both of those numbers go up at the same time,” says Brett Barley, deputy superintendent, student achievement for the Nevada Department of Education. “Oftentimes when you increase the pool of kids you are offering those (AP courses) to, your percentage of students with higher scores will go down because you’ve expanded the number of kids taking the classes. That hasn’t been the case in Nevada. All boats are rising on that measure.”
In addition, he notes, the Silver State is “seeing growth for a lot of our student sub-populations that we’ve been investing our resources in” such as the progress of English language learners, high-poverty students, and African-American pupils.
“There’s a lot to be proud of in Nevada,” Barley says. “We’re seeing some really strong early indicators that the state is about to take off.”
Nevada had 448,142 students enrolled in 2017, including the 321,648 students in Clark County schools. There were 17,335 teachers in Nevada in 2017. The average salary for teachers in Nevada is $57,376, which ranks 18th overall.