When it comes to education, one size doesn't fit all

Setting the state's new academic standards looks more like a game of oneupmanship. One person says he wants to set high academic standards, the next person indicates he wants higher standards, a third person suggests he wants the highest standards in the country.

Not to be outdone, another person says he wants the state to adopt higher standards than the highest in the country.

These peoples' ideas of establishing more rigorous standards can be best described by adding to an already bloated curriculum. Their actions indicate coverage of material is more important to them than students mastering the material presented.

The responsibility of setting these new academic standards in Nevada belongs to the appointed Council to Establish Academic Standards. Decisions anybody makes are only as good as the information they receive. Unfortunately for Nevada, this appointed body hired a private consulting firm, the Council for Basic Education , to help them develop these standards.

The original contract was for approximately $70,000. They have received in the neighborhood of $400,000 for their work. And I use the phrase, "for their work," very loosely.

The standards in mathematics first adopted by CEAS were the work of four people in Clark County - including myself. CBE recommended our standards over the ones developed by them in conjunction with the state writing team. That should give you a clue about the quality of their work.

After those standards were approved by CEAS, Ann Loring, president of the Washoe County School Board, fought to have additional standards placed in the document. One such standard that I vigorously oppose is standard 2.12.5, which states that "all" students will add, subtract and multiply polynomials, factor polynomials, solve quadratic equations and solve problems involving quadratics.

The state writing team in mathematics opposed such a standards for "all" students by a vote of 18 to 2. The math writing team on two occasions has indicated that this is not an appropriate standard for "all" students. Part of the reasoning that went into the writing team recommendation was that it would take approximately 27 weeks, three quarters of a school year, to cover that material and students would be better served by having more practical mathematics.

Debbie Smith, chairperson of CEAS and now a candidate for the Nevada Assembly, indicated that since the vote was so close, she thought the CEAS should decide the matter. Yeah, the vote just squeaked by 18 to 2; whew, that was close.

Not only does Ms. Smith have trouble with counting close votes, she also has demonstrated no understanding of a normal distribution in a population. An example of a normal distribution might be heights of individuals. There are some very, very short people as there are some very, very tall people, and we have a lot of people about the same height - we call average.

That same type of distribution is also present in peoples' abilities. We have some people who might be considered academically challenged, others might be described as geniuses, but about 68 percent of us fall within one standard deviation of the mean - that is to say we are average.

The hired Washington, D.C.-based consultant firm, CBE, apparently has very little understanding of mathematical concepts and a normal distribution .CBE argued, using inappropriate math examples, that all students should have to be able to solve quadratic equations. The examples used to argue for this standard spoke volumes about their work - less than satisfactory.

The writing teams were asked to use a model proposed by CBE to prioritize the new academic standards. Using that model, CBE's recommendation to CEAS is that a person's education is "incomplete" unless he or she has been taught polynomial factoring or solving quadratic equations. That's right, the recommendation by CBE and approved by the CEAS was that a person's education is "incomplete" without that.

Their assumption that all intelligent people go on to college is wrong. There are many very bright people who are very successful who have not gone to college -nor can they factor polynomials or solve quadratic equations.

When I take my car in for servicing, I assume the person working on it is smart and I don't question him on factoring. When my air conditioner goes on the blink, I believe the person working on it has a different knowledge base than I have and can fix it. In other words, I don't think his education is "incomplete" because he or she is not factoring polynomials. Whether it be an electrician or plumber, last time I checked they made big bucks for the knowledge they possess, and they don't demonstrate their intelligence by factoring polynomials or solving quadratic equations.

CBE either suggested or let stand suggestions that other states have the quadratic standard for "all" students. I questioned that and finally a CAES member asked to have that checked. I would say that question should have been asked and answered months ago by their highly paid consultant from Washington. That's just another example of how poorly the Council for Basic Education communicates and advises the CEAS.

The CEAS made another bad decision because of the lack of accurate information provided by CBE. It's clear this organization does not value fine arts or vocational education.

Adding to this "one size fits all mentality," the CEAS is also expecting the state Legislature and the governor to pay for increased teacher salaries, expand the school day or year to accommodate their new standards, provide additional funds for remediation and increase funding for professional development.

My guess is council members will be right out there supporting the tax initiatives being proposed by Sen. Joe Neal or the Nevada State Teachers' Association to pay for their recommendations and support public education.

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 bhanlon@accessnv.com.


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