If you're a parent or educator looking for answers to educational problems, you might have a difficult time determining which body you need to address. I'm sure you've heard the expression, "Too may cooks spoil the broth." That could easily be applied to public education in Nevada.
Who's in charge? Before the passage of Nevada's Educational Reform Act (NERA) in 1997, the Nevada State Board of Education was the elected umbrella group that oversaw public education in Nevada with one exception - teacher licensure.
In the late '80s, the Nevada Legislature gave that authority to the Professional Standards Commission on Education. Many in the state believe the State Teachers' Association has too much say in those appointments.
The state board, in turn, reported to the Legislature through the Assembly Education Committee.
With the passage of NERA, the Legislature created a number of different appointed committees, councils and commissions to oversee different aspects of public education. The Legislative Committee on Education was formed as an umbrella group for the Legislature. That committee is composed of legislators from each house with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans being represented. The chairmanship changes back and forth between houses. Last year Sen. Bill Raggio was chairman, this year it's Assemblyman Wendell Williams.
If you're knowledgeable about Nevada politics, you might know the alternating chairs of the Legislative Committee on Education have different philosophies. That's a problem for local school districts because the swing in the pendulum is so great.
Also created was the Legislative Counsel Bureau on Educational Accountability and Program Evaluation, the Council to Establish Academic Standards, the School Construction Committee and the Commission on Educational Technology.
The state superintendent of public instruction, Mary Peterson, is hired and evaluated by the state board. However, she and the Nevada Department of Education are responsible for providing services to these nine groups as well as preparing analyses and reports for them and the Legislature.
The concern for the public is trying to identify who's in charge. Parents and teachers often feel like they are getting the runaround when they are referred to one group after another with their concerns. These efforts must be coordinated to ensure questions are being answered and students are receiving services.
The new system of governance is clearly fragmented and very political. An example is the Council to Establish Academic Standards. The elected Nevada State Board of Education is responsible for selecting the tests to measure those standards.
Why is that a problem? Well, the council adopted a "one size fits all" model with one set of academic standards. Those standards require "all" students to pretty much have a college preparatory curriculum. States that have adopted those standards in the past, like Louisiana, where all students are required to take algebra and geometry to graduate, have, in my opinion, watered down their curriculum. Their results on nationally normed tests don't suggest increased student achievement.
If all students are required to take algebra and geometry, including special needs students, wouldn't teachers have to accommodate those students? How would including students with low ability, with no intention of going on to college, impact college bound students in algebra or geometry classes? I believe the state board believes different students have different needs. In effect, "one size does not fit all" would better describe the board's philosophy.
Wisely, the State Board of Education and the Nevada Department of Education have formed a Standards Alignment Committee of all these groups to try to get everyone pulling in one general direction without impeding one another.
I cannot imagine how parents will react or who they will blame when their sons and daughters are accepted to colleges and have won scholarships but cannot go because they cannot pass the new high school exit exams in October 2001.
Since they won't know who to call, my guess is a lot of state legislators will be taken to task.
Bill Hanlon is a Las Vegas educator and former member of the State Board of Education.