Twelve Years of Education Reform: The Dismal Track Record

The fate of public education reform efforts in Nevada over the past 12 years bears out this judgment, as those who have tried to change the system have time and again seen reform measures watered down, ignored, not properly implemented, repealed, and mired in turf battles and power struggles.


Statewide Education Goals

This Blueprint for Educational Excellence was approved by the State Board of Education. An early attempt at developing a strategic plan, this document included 40 policy initiatives to be accomplished by the Board to improve education.

Current Status: Few of the more innovative proposals were adopted. The plan was replaced by the State Board’s 10-Year Long Range Strategic Plan, adopted in 1988.


Class-Size Reduction

Assembly Bill 684 stated the Legislature’s intent to reduce the size of each class from kindergarten through third grade to a maximum ratio of one teacher for every 22 pupils. The bill also directed school districts to prepare a plan to achieve this ratio by the year 2000.

Current Status: Legislation creating a statewide class-size reduction program was enacted in 1989. Additional legislation passed in 1991, 1993, and 1995 set specific targets and providing continued funding. To date, evaluations of the program by the Department of Education show mixed results. (See entry for 1989, below.)

High School Graduation Requirements

The State Board of Education increased the number of units required for graduation from high school to 22.5 from 20. The board took this action in response to the 1983 report A Nation at Risk which concluded that our nation’s educational system was graduating students who were not prepared with the academic skills needed to enter the work force. Existing graduation requirements for English and science were increased by one unit each. A one-unit arts and humanities requirement was added along with a one-half unit computer course. Overall, the board increased the required credits by 3.5 units while lowering the elective credits by one unit.

Current Status: The high school graduation requirements remain unchanged from 1987. The Board has had an internal debate over reducing the graduation requirement for the last four years, but recently voted no change.

Standards for Teacher Training

Senate Bill 467 created the Commission on Professional Standards in Education. The Commission’s mission is to prescribe standards for the licensing of teachers and other educational personnel. It also identifies fields of specialization in teaching and sets the requirements for endorsements in such fields. The bill gave the Commission the authority to adopt regulations for teacher licensing, subject to approval by the State Board of Education.

Current Status: The Commission meets about every six weeks to consider modifications to its regulations for licensing. The Commission had made a number of major changes to these requirements since its creation in 1987. In the past three years, the Commission has approved new endorsements for several specialized teaching fields including dance and middle school mathematics. In addition, it has revised standards for endorsements in business education, mathematics, special education and bilingual education among others. The Commission currently has task forces reviewing standards in four fields for possible revision. To date the commission has approved the professional knowledge test and the pre-professional skills test as a requirement for initial licensing in Nevada. It has also approved 23 specialty area tests. In 1995, commission members challenged legislation requiring that part of the continuing education credits taken by a teacher for license renewal be in the field of study for which the applicant is licensed.


Teacher Testing

The Teacher Competency Testing Program was implemented by the State Board of Education to include requirements for testing of basic skills, subject matter and professional knowledge.

Current Status: The Department has established requirements for endorsements in 121 different teaching areas. The Competency Testing Review Committee has made adjustments to passing scores on a number of the examinations. Preliminary findings from an ad hoc committee study suggest that several areas need improvement: 1) communication between the Department and teachers concerning which examinations a teacher should take and major changes to the tests, and 2) the need for different diagnostic information and study materials for experienced teachers new to Nevada and recently graduated teachers. Based on a 1996 review of the program by department staff, the program’s overall level of coverage is 87.3 percent

Statewide Education Goals

The State Board 10-Year Long Range Strategic Plan was adopted. The plan included six main goals and 24 objectives for educational improvement within the state.

Current Status: This Plan was revised and replaced by an updated version in 1995, entitled "Nevada State Board of Education Goals, Objectives and Standard Toward Success."


Governor’s Commission on
Educational Excellence

In the Commission’s report, Nevada Education for the 21st Century, members made numerous recommendations including issuing "teacher warrantees"; site-based decisions-making; remediation for achieving students; and reporting accountability data at the school level.

Current Status: School counselors were put in place to assist "at-risk" students. Very few of the comprehensive recommendations that deviated from traditional practices were implemented.

Incentive Program for
Educational Excellence

S.B. 79 would have established a program to provide annual awards in recognition of outstanding principals and teachers in Nevada’s public schools. Nominations were to be based upon exemplary evaluations and exceptional contributions to pupil learning.

Cash awards of $2,000 were proposed.

Current Status: Employee groups raised issues of equity for other teachers. The measure passed the Senate but died in the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

S.B. 93 would have created a school improvement grant fund program to provide for the establishment of school improvement councils at participating schools made up of the principal, teachers and parents. Grants would have been used to implement innovative academic programs, expand services and improve community and business partnerships.

Current Status: The Nevada State Education Association argued that the money would be better spent on school supplies. The bill died in Committee.

Class-Size Reduction

Class-Size Reduction Act of 1989 (Assembly Bill 964) was designed to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio in public schools, particularly in the earliest grades and in classrooms where the core curriculum is taught. The original goal was to reduce teacher-to-pupil ratios to one-to-15 in the primary grades; one-to-22 in fourth, fifth and sixth grades; and one-to-25 in seventh through twelfth. The bill created a trust fund for class-size reduction which was to receive the portion of the estate tax money originally dedicated to public education in general, as well as gifts and grants from public and private sources. The program was scheduled to proceed in several phases:

• Step one was to reduce the ratio in selected kindergartens and first grade in 1990;

• Step two was designed to improve second grade ratios; and

• Step three targeted third grade and provided additional assistance to reduce ratios in more kindergarten classes.

The 1989 Legislature appropriated $5.8 million for the first year for class-size reduction and over $10 million in the second year.

Current Status: Additional legislation passed in 1991, 1993 and 1995 set specific targets and provided funding to continue the effort. To date evaluations of the program by the Department of Education show mixed results. The 1993 evaluation found no exceptional results in terms of increased student achievement except for certain subgroups. In addition, school districts reported fewer special education referrals and less teacher absenteeism. The 1995 evaluation concluded that some students scored higher in mathematics, but lower in reading. These results were reversed for other groups. The number of classrooms with "team teachers" increased. The most recent evaluation conducted in early 1997 also showed mixed results. It also appears that lowering student-teacher ratios in kindergarten first and second grades has increased ratios in grades four and five.

School Accountability

S.B. 74 required school boards of trustees in conjunction with teachers’ associations to adopt accountability programs for the schools in their districts. By July 1990, each board was to establish a program to inform the residents of the district about the quality of the district’s schools and the educational achievement of students. School boards were allowed to create their own accountability programs or adopt the program developed by the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges. Through the appropriations contained in S.B. 74 the legislature provided $270,000 to pay for accountability requirements over two years.

Current Status: Most districts complied with the minimal requirements outlined in the final version of S.B. 74. It originally established a statewide program for the accreditation of public schools, using criteria to identify schools needing improvement and those demonstrating excellence. The bill also would have established statewide accountability standards using student achievement scores as part of a school improvement process. The bill was watered down to include a district level "accountability" report of vaguely defined components which could not be compared statewide. (See additional comments under the 1993 and 1995 sections on school accountability.)


Teacher Training

Standards for Teacher Training Programs at state universities were established by the State Board of Education. These standards prescribe the educational course of study for students enrolled in education degree programs at college and universities in Nevada

Current Status: The regulations for these standards were made applicable to all colleges in Nevada that offer teacher training programs. The State Board is currently reviewing all of these standards for possible revision. Each college or universitygram is reviewed once every five years for compliance with the standards. Complaints continue to be received by legislators concerning lack of training in education technology and in fundamental academic programs, demonstrating significant improvements in student achievement.


Open Enrollment

A.B. 761 would have allowed parents to enroll children in any public school within a school district. Proponents of the measure argued that it would provide competition among public schools, thereby improving quality.

Current Status: The measure was opposed by the education establishment. The bill died in committee.

Class-Size Reduction

S.B. 653 provided funding to reduce the ratio of pupils to teachers to 16 to one or 32 pupils to two teachers in a classroom. For the 1991-92 Fiscal Year funds were provided to reduce class size in first and second grades along with selected kindergartens. For the 1992-93 Fiscal Year, third grade class size reduction was included.

Current Status: These reductions were implemented as scheduled except for the third grade component which was delayed at the governor’s request due to the national recession and resulting state budget constraints during 1991 and 1992. Education shows mixed results.

Drop-Out Prevention

A.B. 268 required the State Board of Education in cooperation with local school boards, to develop programs to reduce the number of pupils who drop out of school. The program required hiring additional school counselors to assist at-risk pupils.

Current Status: Nevada currently has one of the highest high school drop-out rates in the nation.

Occupational Education and
Technology Education

A.B. 103 created a fund for the enhancement of occupational technology. The State Board of Occupational Education administers the fund. Money in the fund is to be used for occupations in general, and to improve occupational classes.

This measure required that the State Board of Education establish a course of study in occupational guidance and counseling for pupils in seventh through twelfth grades. School districts must include such a course in the curriculum and offer it within the limits of money provided for that purpose.

A.B. 103 also requires that development of a course of study in technology be made available to pupils prior to the completion of eighth grade. The course should provide pupils the opportunity to design, develop, maintain and operate technological systems.

Current Status: A.B. 191 of the 1997 session sought to change this fund to the fund for the school-to-careers program and requires that money in the fund be used to help pupils make the transition from school to work. Occupational education is being provided to Nevada students through both traditional programs and through the recently developed state school-to-careers program.


Class-Size Reduction

S.B. 567 appropriated $25.3 million for Fiscal Year 1993-94 and $27.7 million for Fiscal Year 1994-95 to reduce the ratio of pupils to teachers to the levels specified in prior statutes. Some of the money was used to provide scholarships to students pursuing teaching degrees at the state’s universities. The act provided sufficient money to maintain a pupil-teacher ratio of 16-to-one in selected kindergartens and first and second grades throughout the 1993-95 biennium. The bill also required the Department of Education to submit an annual report concerning pupil-teacher ratios to the Budget Division and the Legislative Counsel Bureau.

Current Status: In general, the funding was adequate for school districts to meet the target ratios in both years of the biennium. The department prepared the required annual report and submitted it to the executive and legislative agencies. The number of classrooms with "team teachers" increased. Again, the evaluation showed mixed results concerning program performance.

Drop-Out Prevention

A.B. 527 authorized school districts, subject to the approval of the State Board of Education, to establish alternative programs for the education of pupils at risk of dropping out of high school.

Current Status: Nevada continues to have one of the highest drop-out rates in the nation.

School Accountability

S.B. 511 changed the law concerning the accountability program for public schools. The statute was expanded to re

quire each school district to report annually to the residents of the district and the State Board of Education specific information on education quality and student achievement for each school. Under the new law, each school must report comparisons between current pupil achievement at each age and grade with that of the previous years. Schools must also report the following: pupil to teacher ratios for each grade; the types of classes each teacher is assigned to teach along with the teacher’s licensure and qualifications; total expenditures per pupil from each individual funding source; the curriculum; attendance and advancement records in all grades; and graduation rates in high school. The requirement to report educational goals and objectives for the district as a whole was not changed.

Current Status: Most school districts have produced accountability reports at both the school and district levels. However, in both 1995 and 1996 some districts failed to provide either school-level or district-level information to the independent evaluators. In addition, the Department had been inconsistent in its evaluation of the effectiveness of district accountability efforts. For more details see the sections on current status under 1995 accountability reforms.

Site-Based Management

S.B. 91 authorized the board of trustees of each school district to establish rules concerning school-based decision making for public schools within the district. A school council, typically consisting of the principal, parents, teachers and other community members, sets the policy direction for the school.

A.B. 290 mandated a pilot program to evaluate the feasibility of transferring the responsibility for public school management decisions to administrators, staff members and parents at individual schools. The State Board of Education was to establish the pilot program to be conducted at 10 schools

Current Status: Only two school districts have establishes policies on site-based decision making (Carson City and Washoe County). Only one elementary school (in the Washoe County School District) has implemented site-based management in accordance with 1993 law.


Student Testing

The State Board of Education began developing a new high school proficiency examination. The 1995 legislature provided staff for the Department of Education to develop and implement a new high school proficiency test to be administered in eleventh grade.

Current Status: The test was completed during the 1996-97 school year and pilot tested. However, 15 of the 17 local

school district superintendents voted to delay implementation of the test until February, 1999. Although the test is ready and the Legislature was told it would be administered in 1996, the State Board of Education has not yet implemented this new examination.


Class-Size Reduction

S.B. 576 provided $43.4 million in the first year of the biennium and $55.7 million in the second year for salaries and benefits for teachers hired to meet the required staffing ratios. This funding was sufficient to maintain the pupil-to-teacher ratios at 16-to-one in selected kindergartens, first and second grades. The funding for the second year of the biennium included money to hire teachers to begin reducing the staffing ratio in third grade. The bill also allowed school districts to use class-size reduction funds for an alternative plan to improve pupil achievement in first, second and third grades with approval from the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Only the third grade portion of the funding could be used in that manner.

Current Status: In general, the funding was adequate for school districts to meet the targeted ratio both years of the biennium. The Department prepared the required annual report and submitted it to the executive and legislative agencies. The evaluation showed mixed results. Two school districts pursued alternative methods to increase pupil achievement using the flexibility granted in S.B. 576. The Washoe and Lyon County School Districts each implemented a reading recovery program. These programs appear to be effective in increasing student reading achievement.

School Accountability

S.B. 386 made a number of technical changes to the school accountability program and made the program permanent. Under the new provisions, schools are required to report the drop-out rate, the number of incidents involving violence or deadly weapons, the number of pupil suspensions or expulsions and the pupil transiency rate.

Current Status: A number of school districts did not provide complete district-level accountability data to the independent evaluators in 1995 and 1996. In addition, six districts did not complete the required evaluations of the program’s effectiveness for 1996. The independent evaluators also found that the State Department of Education did not provide a statewide data base nor involve knowledgeable professional staff in the accountability review process conducted in 1996.

Student Testing

S.B. 386 also appropriated $670,000 for statewide accountability and proficiency testing using a national norm-referenced test scored by a single private entity which must report scores directly to the State Department of Education.

Current Status: The State Board of Education has adopted a national norm-referenced test produced and scored by CTB McGraw Hill. The test, called Terra Nova, was administered for the first time to fourth and eight grade students in the fall of 1996. The test results were released in May 1997.

School-to-Careers and Occupational Education

A.B. 303 required the State Board of Education to establish a school-to-careers program to provide pupils with the skills to make the transition to the workplace. The Board must develop, implement and review the program with the assistance of state agencies, school districts, community colleges and the business community. The bill provided $4 million to the fund for improvement of occupational education to finance the program.

A.B. 69 provides businesses that employ students with a partial exemption from the business tax, to be applied to students participating school supervised work study programs.

Current Status: A statewide school-to-careers system had been developed and implemented using money provided by A.B. 303 and a federal planning grant from the National School-to-Work Office. The School-to-Careers Council and State Board of Education oversee the program. Regional and local partnerships offer participating students a number of programs and services. The state secured a five-year federal School-to-Work Implementation Grant totaling just over $11 million to extend the program’s reach, but legislative authority to receive these funds has not been obtained. A formal evaluation of the program has not been conducted. A number of significant concerns have been raised by legislators and members of the State Board regarding the program’s operation.

Charter Schools

S.B. 31 would have implemented a pilot program for charter schools in Nevada. Charter schools are public schools that operate independently from school districts, usually utilizing innovative teaching methods to improve student performance. They are designed to give significant autonomy to individual schools and, in turn, to hold those schools accountable for results. If a charter school fails to meet the term of its charter, the agreement may be revoked and the school closed.

Current Status: Following opposition from the education establishment, the bill passed the Senate but died in the Assembly Committee on Education. It was reintroduced in 1997.

Statewide Education Goals

The Nevada State Board of Education "Goals, Objectives and Standards Toward Success" document was adopted to revise and update the Board’s strategic plan. This plan included seven main goals and related objectives for educational improvement within the state. These goals included: ensuring equal access to educational services; ensuring that all children begin school ready to learn; establishing standards and programs to ensure high student achievement and improving the State Department of Education’s capacity and effectiveness in implementing educational reform, among others.

Current Status: The Board has not put statewide content and performance standards in place. In addition, many children in Nevada are not ready to learn when they enter first grade. State policymakers have expressed concern about whether the recent reorganization of the State Department of Education has increased its ability to implement education reform.

To Be Continued Next Month


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