Are Nevada schools improving?
A business group’s new study provides support for Gov. Kenny Guinn’s tax program, showing a dramatic improvement in the state’s schools since taxes were raised and funding to schools increased.
A recent study issued by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) ranks Nevada considerably higher than most studies have shown when it comes to public education. But given the organization’s political agenda, financial backers and membership, some interest groups may question the findings.
According to ALEC’s “2004 Report Card on American Education,” Nevada ranks 28th in the nation, up from its ranking of 40th last year. The study compares student performance on standardized tests, such as the SAT and ACT, with per-pupil expenditures and teacher salaries.
Because Nevada’s per pupil expenditure rose and the number of students at or above the “proficiency” level on tests increased, the state received a higher ranking, said ALEC spokeswoman Lori Drummer.
“All we’re doing is looking at statistical numbers,” Drummer said. “So we’re not being that subjective,” though she admits the ranking criteria is unique to ALEC.
It’s this criteria coupled with ALEC’s allegedly pro-business, conservative agenda that give some educators pause. According to a study released by AlecWatch.org, ALEC is a “tax-exempt facade for the country’s largest corporations and kindred entities,” including oil companies like Amoco and Shell. In addition, alecwatch.org reports that all five of the organization’s members in Nevada are Republican.
In fact, Drummer said, Nevada’s state ALEC chairman is Republican state Sen. Dennis Nolan.
Nevada Department of Education spokesman Douglas Thunder said the reliability of information released in such studies deserves scrutiny. He said the amount of credibility the state gives to any study “depends on the rationale for the existence for the organization.”
In addition, Thunder said another factor skewing results is that many studies rely on dated information, usually about two years old.
One Nevada high school teacher sees the organization’s political bent as the main problem. “Right-wing organizations will report the right-wing stuff,” he said, adding that their results are usually designed to keep taxes down.
Drummer rejected that idea. She said ALEC is only concerned with how taxpayer dollars are spent. The fact that Nevada student test scores have risen, without a major increase in funding, is a good sign; it means public funds are being used productively.
“We’re happy that the policymakers are making the right decisions in terms of how money is being spent,” she said.
Still, Thunder said the biggest factor in improving student performance can’t be measured by tax-dollar expenditures and test scores.
“Personally, I think the level of parental involvement helps students succeed,” he said. “But that’s not something you can legislate.” As for the effect that such studies have on the daily activities of teachers, Mosher said it’s not much.
"It’s our laugh for the day," he said.