New standards aren't appropriate for all students

Are the new academic standards created by the Council to Establish Academic Standards the right standards for the state of Nevada?

One report often quoted by people involved in the standards movement, the Third International Math and Science Study, suggested that America's curriculum is a mile wide and an inch deep. In other words, America's public schools try to cover too much material and don't have the opportunity to go more in-depth. Another way of saying that is we are not giving our teachers an opportunity to do their jobs well.

A study by the Mid-continent Regional Educational Laboratory indicates that the standards movement has made this problem worse. They suggest it would take an additional nine years of schooling to cover all the material that's being included in state's new standards documents. What that means is instead of having K-12 schools, most states will need a K-21 school system.

Many states' new academic standards look very much like a college preparatory program of study. So the question that begs to be answered is: "Are the new academic standards appropriate for all students?" And if they are, what percentage of students will not be able to pass the new high school proficiency exam based on the new academic standards that determine graduation?

Another fun question I'd like answered, "Could the people on the Council to Establish Academic Standards pass a test on the standards they developed and approved?"

Would a question of this nature be appropriate to determine if a student earns a diploma and would council members even have a clue where to begin to solve that problem themselves? "A potato farmer has 400 bushels of potatoes that she can now sell for $3.20 per bushel. For every week she waits, the price per bushel will drop by 10 cents but she will harvest 20 more bushels. How many weeks should she wait in order to maximize her income?"

Let's put this into perspective. Nationwide, approximately 40 percent of the teachers teaching math and science in our high schools don't even have a minor in the subject they teach.

Heck, the Clark County schools are short 16 high school math teachers as you read this column. That translates to approximately 3,000 students being taught high school mathematics by a substitute teacher.

While adults and educators give many reasons for students not succeeding in school, students have the number of reasons they fail down to two. Reason one, teachers don't know the content of the subject area they are teaching. Reason two, their teachers can't teach. Those two reasons, taken along with the fact that approximately 40 percent of the teachers teaching high school math or science in the United States don't have a major or minor in the field they are teaching and you might give some validity to the students' argument. Then factor in the 3,000 students being taught by 16 substitutes because of the teacher shortage and you can certainly lend credence to their opinion.

And the state wants to talk "accountability." Well, accountability cuts two ways. First, the state has to pay the teachers enough to, at the very least, attract them to the state. Second, it has to guarantee to the students that the teachers who do come can teach to the new academic standards. Third, the state has to provide professional development to those already here.

How can Nevada be taken seriously about its commitment to public education if the state won't fund teacher salaries to attract qualified teachers? How will those students be expected to pass a more rigorous high school exit exam? Talk about being set up to fail.

The bad news is, for the money and hoopla being raised around the country and in Nevada, the new academic standards are not appropriate for all students, nor are they reasonably attainable. You would have thought that the people responsible for developing standards that were using TIMSS as a reference would have at the very least concerned themselves with giving qualified teachers enough time to teach the material.

The good news is, Nevada's Legislature passed SB 466 which requires the Council to Establish Academic Standards to go back over its work to revise and prioritize the new standards.

Bill Hanlon, a Las Vegas educator, is a member of the Nevada Board of Education. His views do not necessarily reflect those of other members. His e-mail address is


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