Both sides seek school reform

Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Sandoval released his education plan last week, calling for an end to teacher tenure and the social promotion of students.

“The education system in Nevada does not measure up,” said the former federal judge. “With our graduation rates the lowest in the nation, it’s time to get serious about reform and challenge the status quo.”

The state teachers union — which also answers to the name “status quo” — immediately condemned several elements of the Sandoval plan, including vouchers and the elimination of tenure. The union has endorsed Democratic nominee Rory Reid, son of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid.

Yet, while the younger Mr. Reid’s own school reform plan does omit school vouchers as a sop to his union backers (Allow poor children to attend high-quality private schools? The nerve!), the Democrat’s own “Virtual Crossroads” campaign booklet vows, “We must give teachers and principals the authority to innovate and educate to the best of their abilities — and then we’ll hold them accountable for their performance.”

In his nine-page plan, Mr. Sandoval says the current performance evaluation system for teachers and principals is out of date, rewarding endurance over performance. Mr. Sandoval explains his plan will require a majority of teacher and principal evaluations to be based on student achievement. Salary schedules would no longer be based on time served.

The plan would end social promotion by requiring any student who’s not proficient on the state’s criterion-referenced reading test by the end of the third grade to be held back for focused reading instruction.

Mr. Sandoval also said parents should be allowed to move their children out of failing public schools, and that he also supports vouchers to allow parents to have access to private schools. Local districts would be required to offer transportation to another school, including both schools operated by the district and charter schools located in the same county.

It’s easier to produce a campaign document than to push substantive reform through Nevada’s traditionally union-dominated Legislature, of course.

Nonetheless, the fact that the gubernatorial candidates of both major parties now believe that calling for substantive school reform — teacher merit pay, more school choice, dumping teachers and administrators who fail to show progress — is the way to voters’ hearts, is encouraging in itself.

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