Nevada must rise to meet education challenge
For the Nevada Appeal
A “Meet the Press” segment recently presented an unusual array of political odd-fellows supporting the need to improve our public schools: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House and a staunch conservative; and the Rev. Al Sharpton, a devoted liberal and civil rights advocate. At President Obama’s request, this team had been traveling the country together to look at schools that work.
The team also explored schools that were failing and drew conclusions about both success and failure. Sharpton noted that where education among our competitors was moving ahead, we in the U.S. were falling further behind. The team agreed.
There was general consensus among these team members that we have to get dramatically better in our public schools and close the achievement gap. There is still great disparity among various racial and ethnic groups that needs to be addressed. And even students who do well, do not do as well as students among our international competitors. The education gap hurts us.
Gingrich commented that the team had visited schools in poor, urban neighborhoods. A school that had once been filled with violence a few years earlier was now graduating 100 percent of its students, all of whom planned to go to college. The team, in talking with the students and teachers, found that they had in the past experienced low expectations, little support and constant failure; but now they experience high expectations, new teachers who care and work with them, and parents and guardians who are committed to their success.
Duncan said he doesn’t support “charter schools;” he supports “good charter schools.” The distinction is critical. What he meant by “good charter schools” is that the schools have high standards, high expectations, skilled teachers, involved parents, and students who do not drop out and who go on to post-secondary institutions.
Charter schools in Nevada are working hard to meet Secretary Duncan’s definition of “good charter schools” but they need to press even harder. The Adequate Yearly Progress standards of No Child Left Behind will soon be replaced by more demanding core academic standards. Measurement will be determined by student achievement growth, a more rigorous metric.
We need more good charter schools, in Carson City and in Nevada. We also need access to the $4.3 billion set aside by the administration to “race to the top.” Nevada is the only state in the nation currently not eligible for these funds. Good charter schools will help students reach the top. They will let us rethink and reinvent the way we provide education to our children. We will meet the educational challenges of the future.
• Dr. Eugene T. Paslov, former Nevada superintendent of schools, is a board member for Silver State Charter High School in Carson City.