New Superintendent Jesus Jara has produced a comprehensive five-year “strategic plan” for the Clark County School District. To his credit, he’s not dressing up as the Sugar Plum Fairy to hide the district’s many ills.
The plan covers a wide range of issues, including transportation, attendance, professional development, school discipline and financial transparency. All of these are important, of course, but the district’s primary mission remains educating students. In that regard, the plan’s objectives are ambitious — and highlight the glaring disconnect between academic reality and the district’s rising graduation rate.
The assessment of student achievement is relentlessly bleak. In English language arts, more than “50 percent of our students in grade 3-8 were not proficient,” while fewer than half of the district’s 11th-graders made the cut in English on the ACT. Math is worse. Nearly 60 percent of district third-, fourth- and fifth-graders missed the mark; by eighth grade, the figure was 70 percent. The numbers plummet in science, with 22 percent of fifth-graders deemed proficient. The number falls to 20 percent by 10th-grade.
Is it any wonder that more than half the district’s graduates who go on to attend college in Nevada require remediation at the next level?
Mr. Jara, however, vows to boost those dreary scores — by more than 50 percent in some cases. For instance, the plan shoots for 65 percent proficiency in English among third-graders by 2024 and more than 62 percent for middle-schoolers. Math goals include 58 percent proficiency for elementary schoolers and better than 48 percent for middle school students.
By high school, the district seeks to ensure that more than 58 percent of 11th-graders score high enough to meet standards on the ACT English section, with the number set at 45 percent for math. The goal for high school science proficiency by 2024 is 39 percent.
Meanwhile, the district is targeting a 90 percent four-year high school graduation rate in five years. Would it be impolite to ask how that number comports with anticipated literacy rates for high school juniors of 39 percent in science, 45 percent in math and 58 percent in English?
With a nod toward optics and the lawmakers who hold his funding in their hands, Mr. Jara insists district officials will face consequences for failing to reach his benchmarks, saying “specific executives … will be held accountable for their results.” Notably, the plan is silent about what those consequences might be.
Five-year plans are nothing new in business or government and neither is articulating concrete goals designed to improve performance. The challenge for Mr. Jara — as it has been for his predecessors — will be translating power-point aspirations and cheery forecasts into tangible results. Mr. Jara’s candor is refreshing. But his success will ultimately depend on results.