As Nevada gears up for another election cycle, prepackaged talking points begin to fill the air. Many politicians began their careers on a message of equity in education for all students, only to come up short every two years in Carson City. However, 2015 has proven to be a unique year.
Unexpectedly, under a Republican controlled legislature we’ve witnessed unprecedented education reform whereby all of America is now watching Nevada. This is and should be a “work in progress.” The question remains… What will be our history? Unless we continue to move beyond the shackles of political partisanship, in the spirit of equality and justice for all Nevadans, we will fail our greatest asset… Our children.
Democratic Assemblyman Harvey Munford (the only Black legislator serving on a Legislative Education Committee this session) has authored a multicultural bill that requires the inclusion of ethnically diverse men and women in the State Curriculum, and requires cultural competency training of teachers; both of which were severely lacking. In a show of camaraderie, state legislators passed this bill adding much needed cultural diversity in the classroom. This bill was originally introduced in 2005, Assemblyman Munford's first term in office.
It’s important to note that Clark County School District (CCSD) adopted this policy almost two years ago and it is well underway. The Clark County Black Caucus (CCBC) collaboration with CCSD over the past five years has been essential to identifying the needs of Black students and subsequently establishing a CCBC education initiative the community would support. Based on data provided by CCSD, the Black Caucus in February 2013, launched Operation32371.org and began building collaborations and partnerships by informing media, organizations, parents and students, community leaders, policy and lawmakers on the critical need and inequity of students in poverty. Many organizations and community advocates joined in the effort to raise awareness and are listed on Operation32371.org website.
Over 32,371 African American students are on free and reduced lunch (FRL) and this subgroup reflects some of the highest proficiency gaps in literacy, math, and science. Originally passed in 2013, ZOOM school funding ($100 million for school years 2015-17) only addressed literacy for schools with high English Language Learners (ELL) and did not address those native speaking students with high proficiency gaps on FRL. By exposing the terrible truth of inequity in education for Black children invisible under the cloak of free and reduced lunch (FRL), Nevada has taken the challenge head on to ensure a more equitable education for all children as required by the US Department of Education Civil Rights Guidelines. Assembly Bill 107 requested by the CCBC and authored by the Interim Legislative Education Committee, chaired by Senator Joyce Woodhouse requires the reporting of student proficiencies by ethnicity, providing more transparency of proficiency gaps, and opportunity for all students to achieve.
The Victory Schools legislation (SB432) is a two year pilot program, therefore, future funding will depend on the success and ROI of this $50 million investment. To fund this and other very important reforms essential to student success (not all I personally agree with) Governor Sandoval and Nevada’s State Legislature passed the highest business tax increase in Nevada history. The Nevada Department of Education (DOE) has the resources to begin addressing the proficiency gaps of these students in poverty. This program is not based on race and all schools receiving funds are located in zip codes with high poverty and highest proficiency gaps. Funds are distributed to each school based on a per pupil enrollment allocated at approximately $1,125 per pupil. CCSD is expected to receive over $29 million for schools in their jurisdiction. For example, Matt Kelly ES will receive $353,000 per year, West Prep Academy will receive over $2 million per year, and Andre Agassi ES will receive $532,000 per year in additional funding. For a complete list of schools and additional funding please visit www.CCBlackCaucus.com and click on the “Education” link.
Each school administrator is tasked with conducting a needs assessment and data analysis of their school, submit a comprehensive plan for the 2015-2016 school year and CCSD must submit their plans to the DOE by August 15, 2015. Administrators can select from a variety of additional resources, third party vendors, programs and incentives to achieve the State’s DOE goals that “students read at grade level, be prepared for rigorous curriculum and graduate from high school with the skills and attributes necessary to immediately succeed in college or a career.” Focus areas for additional funding may include Pre-K or full day kindergarten, summer academy, additional instructional opportunities, professional development, incentives for hiring and retaining highly effective teachers, and reading skills centers.
Additional use of funds may include: family engagement services, evidence-based social, psychological or health care services to pupils and their families, wrap-around services, programs to improve school climate, or other programs based on needs assessment of the school. Recognizing it’s important, the coalition(what coalition) advocated for mandatory meetings to seek community input. Parents should receive notification directly from their school. The DOE will work with an independent evaluator to evaluate the effectiveness of programs and services provided at each school. Ineffective schools will be subject to corrective action by the State Board of Education. Although Superintendent Dale Erquiaga has set the bar high with specific expectations from both the Governor's Office and the State Legislature, I believe Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky and his team at CCSD will rise to the challenge.
You will find updates on the implementation of Victory Schools and education bills supported by the Clark County Black Caucus website and follow future progress. With proficiencies as low as 8% in math, 18% in reading, and 13% in science our current system is failing our students and we certainly can do better. The data shows with innovative strategies, real-time and monthly assessments, teacher strategies and accountability, students can achieve measurable improvements. Our students are counting on us to be informed, engaged, and supportive. Check out all of the education bills passed this legislative session and what you can expect in the new school year. Dozens of bills will go to improve student achievement including, for the first time in Nevada, a literacy law that’s inclusive of ALL children and mandates that every school district ensure that every child read by the third grade. Each child reading below grade level will receive an individual learning plan.
Now that these funds are available it is important that CCSD empower the Victory School Principals to provide an aggressive and innovative program for student achievement at the start of the new school year. Goals and benchmarks should be clearly established by CCSD Administration, and reflected in the school plan along with a built in tool to measure progress.
With less than one year before Nevada Legislators are looking for progress reports, during their interim legislative committee meetings, the district will need to rely on a "real time" monthly assessment of student progress that can drive teaching as well as provide monthly progress reports to identify successful benchmarks. Currently Turnaround Schools are successfully using an assessment tool with great success and we anticipate most Principals will utilize this measurement tool for Victory Schools. This tool provides "real time" data allowing the teacher and/or Principal to see each student's performance, and identify strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, students utilize this tool online allowing them to take the assessment individually, and providing the teacher with an individual work plan that includes instructional materials. It is a tool that actually drives instruction and in my opinion should be used in EVERY CCSD school, so that every child can achieve their highest potential, regardless of their zip code.
Although this was a big first step for Nevada it does not go far enough in my opinion. For example, we need to change the way we fund education and use a weighted formula that follows the individual student. This will require a larger discussion that will follow in future posts. It's time we stop TALKING about what's good for students and DO what's good for students.
Yvette Williams is a community advocate and Chair/Founder of the Clark County Black Caucus, a non-partisan community organization driven 100% by volunteer members registered to vote. She is a regular contributor to The Las Vegas Black Image magazine and has published articles in several magazines. She is also a regular guest on several radio shows and public forums discussing public policy and politics. Follow her on twitter @YvetteBWilliams and learn more about her work at ClarkCountyBlackCaucus@gmail.com.