We've reported a lot on education in Nevada. We've talked about empowerment schools. We've talked about weighted funding. We've talked about Zoom and Victory Schools and Read by 3.
We've talked about money. The per-pupil spending in Nevada is one of the lowest in the nation, which goes with the state's ranking in terms of overall student test scores.
But there is an increasing number of stakeholders in the district who feel like we're overlooking some key people in this conversation - teachers.
Teachers, arguably, are the biggest factor in whether students succeed or not. So why are they not an integral part of the conversation?
One Nevada education group wants to change that.
“Some teachers are involved in the conversation, but I would say by in large teachers do feel that a lot of the policy decisions that are made in Carson City they are left out of,” Meredith Smith, the policy director for Nevada Succeeds told KNPR’s State of Nevada.
Smith said Nevada Succeeds is looking at what teachers need to succeed, what research says about what teachers need and what policies advance those needs.
She said research shows some of the most successful schools have teachers that have plenty of classroom training while in college and then a lot of peer mentorship when they’re hired at a school.
“What we see in successful schools is a school where educators are collaborating across experience levels across specialization and across grade level,” she said.
Smith said some schools have mentorship and collaboration programs but there are just not enough of them.
“We have great schools in Clark County. We have great schools across the state of Nevada,” she said, “I think what is not happening is the components that make what we call a great school, specifically a school that encourages collaboration among the professionals in the building that’s not a culture that we see at scale.”
Smith said Nevada Succeeds is not looking for more programs for student achievement. Instead, the organization wants to push systematic and culture changes in Nevada schools.
“I think that there have been amazing efforts towards education improvements in Nevada so far but I would say we’re trying to shift the conversation to be less programmatic and just a more systemic focus,” she said.
For inspiration, they’re looking north to the Canadian province of Ontario, which is in the eastern part of the country. While it is much larger in population than Nevada, it has some of the same problems like the rural-urban divide and a large immigrant population.
Mary Jean Gallagher, the assistant deputy minister and chief student achievement officer for the Ministry of Education of Ontario, said with only 54 percent of students meeting the provincial standards and low high school graduation rates, a new provincial government decided improving education was a priority.
Gallagher said the Ministry of Education focused on teachers and principals.
“The kind of accountability we worked to put in place in Ontario was less about top down accountability… it was more about saying if a classroom is not improving the way we know it can it’s because the teachers and principals don’t know yet how to have that happen,” she said.
To fill that knowledge gap, she said teachers and principals in struggling schools were taken to successful schools to see what was working in other places with similar demographic challenges like poverty and students who were English – or French – language learners.
“There are lots of wonderful, caring, loving educators who don’t believe that their kids can achieve as well as any other child in the province or the state and to be honest they’re wrong,” she said, “And that’s a really huge challenge… children will succeed or fail in alignment with the expectations of their parents and their teachers.”
She said teachers and principals then collaborated to identify ways they could use those example schools as templates for success in their own struggling schools.
The model helped move the province’s student achievement number to 72 percent hitting provincial standards.
“It’s about helping them set high expectations and then helping them recognize there are very smart ways in which teachers and principals can change what they’re doing in class to move even the most challenged kids forward in their learning program,” she said.
Smith said stakeholders from teachers to administrators to lawmakers and the education department are on board for improving education in the Silver State.
She believes successful schools around the world have “designed a system that supports excellent education through having excellent educators in the classroom every day.”
Meredith Smith, Policy Director, Nevada Succeeds; Mary Jean Gallagher, Assistant Deputy Minister and Chief Student Achievement Officer, Ministry of Education of Ontario
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