Conservative think tank proposes school improvements

CARSON CITY — The Nevada Policy Research Institute has released a report claiming to have found 33 ways to improve Nevada’s education system without spending more taxpayer money.

The report, which presents ideas old and new, is posted online.

“The timing is specifically cogent because the education initiative is on the ballot,” said the report’s author, Geoffery Lawrence, referring to Question 3, The Education Initiative on the November ballot that critics call a job-killing margins tax increase.

Sponsored by the Nevada State Education Association, the proposed tax could bring in as much as $750 million a year for Nevada’s public education system

“The teachers union likes to say that people on the right don’t have their own solutions for changing education in Nevada or improving it,” Lawrence said.

“Read by 3” is a suggested reform that says students should have proficient reading skills by third grade to advance to the fourth grade. According to the report, the conservative think tank’s research shows third-grade literacy is important to student achievement and moneys currently spent on programs such as full-day kindergarten could be redirected to implement a “Read by 3” program.

According to Clark County School District spokeswoman Melinda Malone, the district already has made reading proficiency by third grade one of its goals. Its “Pledge of Achievement” sets benchmarks and evaluates the efforts and effectiveness of programs.

The NPRI report also suggests paying students for reaching learning goals. But Malone said that would constitute a huge expense in a district with 316,000 students. For example, it would cost $6.3 million to pay each student $2 a book if they read an average of 10 books.

According to the report, students leaving elementary schools for middle schools tend to experience social anxiety that is harmful to academic achievement. The NPRI report suggests that merging elementary and middle schools could improve student performance and be cost effective.

Malone, however, said current grade configurations and school facilities focus on specific development skills for different age groups.

The report also cites select studies that find high school students had better attendance rates and academic performance when classes begin after 8:30 am. The report says the documented benefits of later school start times suggests the simple change could be a cost-effective way to improve student performance.

Malone said the district has heard from parents on both sides of that issue, with some who like the current staggered start times for schools and others who would like to see change.

Malone said Clark County Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky has pledged to cut programs that aren’t working and expand programs that increase student achievement.

Nevada State Education Association President Ruben Murillo Jr. did not comment on the NPRI report.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Whip Villarreal at wvillarreal@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901. Follow @WhipVillarreal on Twitter.

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