Analyst says open enrollment would help minority students

CARSON CITY -- Two black legislators clashed Wednesday with a conservative education analyst who said school zoning policies in Nevada deprive racial minorities of a chance for quality education.

Patrick Gibbons, an analyst with the Las Vegas-based Nevada Policy Research Institute, called for the Legislature's Committee on Education to advocate for open school enrollment, under which parents could decide which schools their children attend.

Current zoning policies under which children attend schools close to their homes "increases racial segregation and segregation on the basis of income," Gibbons said.

He said the "Ku Klux Klan could not have designed a more racist system."

Assemblyman Harvey Munford, a retired Clark County teacher, said he comes from a low-income area in Akron, Ohio, and doubted the "Ku Klux Klan designed it that way."

Munford, D-Las Vegas, said an open enrollment system would lead to some schools becoming athletic powers because their coaches would recruit the best athletes from across the Las Vegas Valley.

Gibbons said that would not bother him. He said that schools could be become known for art, theater, band and other activities and that students interested in those subjects would enroll there.

But state Sen. Bernice Mathews, D-Reno, said Gibbons' plan would work in "an ideal world" but not in reality.

"We need quality education, no matter where the kids live," Mathews said. "What happens in neighborhoods with money is those kids get a good education because their parents have the resources to help the schools. You don't have that in poor neighborhoods. We need the resources where poor people live."

Munford said that students who attend a school far from their neighborhoods could have problems with transportation and that their parents might not be able to attend parent-teacher meetings.

"I know low-income students can still learn," Munford said.

Gibbons' statements drew a question from another committee member.

"Do you have children?" asked Assemblywoman Marilyn Dondero Loop, D-Las Vegas,.

"No," Gibbons replied.

But Gibbons noted that Hispanic children in Florida now score better on standardized tests than Caucasian children in Nevada.

He said Florida has opened enrollment and adopted a new way of evaluating teachers. Under value-added assessments, teachers are graded on how individual students in their classrooms gain in achievement year to year, not on competition with other students or national averages.

"It is the fairest way to evaluate teachers," said Gibbons, himself a former teacher.

Munford said good teachers are those who are almost willing to work for free and wake up each morning eager to get in the classroom.

"We have been in the trenches. We know what it is all about," Munford said, pointing out that he and three other teachers on the committee spent combined more than 120 years in the classroom.

Mathews complimented Gibbons for suggestions and spawning interest in improving education but questioned Gibbons whether the Nevada Policy Research Institute could use her as another education analyst because "it needs to be brought back to reality."

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at or 775-687-3901.