In education, it’s the results, not the money

To paraphrase the old James Carville campaign line and apply it to the education of Nevada children: “It’s the results, stupid.”

Raining cash on public education without an effective plan for delivery to students is like airdropping food to a war-torn country. You hope the food gets to the hungry, but powerful warlords that rule the countryside snap it up. Throwing bundles of cash at public schools gets a similar result — unions and the accompanying bureaucracy eat most of it. The students starve.

Look no further for evidence of this than Las Vegas, home of one of the nation’s largest school districts. The education bosses go to work without want. Union leaders make mid-six figures. Teachers and students, meanwhile, go to crowded classrooms without enough computers and books.

If Nevada has learned anything over the last half-century, it is that you cannot throw money at the public school educational complex and expect that alone to deliver the needed results. It hasn’t happened. It won’t happen.

The union-backed Question 3, on this fall’s ballot, is folly. It will direct the Legislature to send more wheelbarrows full of cash to the same broken unionized public school system. No accountability. And, you can bet, no results.

I like the way my rural Nevada newspapers put it in an editorial last week. The Eureka Sentinel, the Ely Times, the Lincoln County Record and the Mineral County Independent News hit the nail squarely on the head: “First, you learn to read. Then, you read to learn. If you fail that first step, there is no second step.” The editorial goes on to explain how Gov. Brian Sandoval attempted to get the Nevada Legislature and the state’s public schools to copy Florida’s successful education reforms.

“In 1999, Florida instituted secondary education reform, including performance-based pay for teachers, grading schools, annual tests and, most importantly, curbing social promotion.

“Florida third-grade students must pass the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test before being promoted to the fourth grade.

“In 1998, 47 percent of Florida’s fourth-graders were basically illiterate, scoring ‘below basic’ on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test. By 2013, that figure had fallen to 25 percent — down 22 points and well below the national rate of 33 percent.”

The 1998 NAEP test showed 49 percent of Nevada’s fourth-graders were illiterate. By 2013, that figure remained at the disgusting level of 39 percent. To the shame of Nevadans everywhere, too many Nevada fourth-graders are not proficient or advanced in reading skills. We are well below the national rate, and the national rate stinks.

Florida proved that when it comes to reading proficiency, you must draw the line somewhere to correct it. It was resolve, not money, that turned things around.

Take a look at Nevada education spending, as noted by Victor Joecks of the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

“Over the last 50 years, Nevada has nearly tripled its inflation-adjusted, per-pupil spending. Despite this massive influx of money, education results have remained stagnant. Moreover, Nevada now has the lowest graduation rate in the country, at 41.8 percent.”

Unfortunately, the Legislature, which is too often a wholly owned subsidiary of the teachers unions, doesn’t get that picture.

Sandoval says he’ll try again for reform in 2015. He should, because the success in Florida is undeniable.

In 1998, Nevada had basically the same score on the NAEP as Florida. Today, Florida has advanced fourth-grade reading scores by two grade levels. Florida’s African-American and Hispanic students jumped 2.5 grade levels. Nevada has barely moved half a grade.

Why unions balk at even trying a system that has achieved these kinds of results is a teachable moment for Nevadans. Let’s not let another generation of Nevadans go by without changing things up. Let’s try something new — something that’s been shown to work.

Because it’s the results, stupid.

It’s not the spending.

Sherman Frederick, former publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and member of the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame, writes a column for Stephens Media. Read his blog at