Baby and bath water doing well

The Washoe County School Board is a topic of considerable dispute in our community. To an extent, that’s as it should be. A public panel that attracts no criticism is likely not doing its job. But of course, the criticism aimed the board’s way in the last two years goes beyond the usual level.

There’s a risk that our citizenry will let the unhappiness with the board splash over into unhappiness with the students. We saw that last week in our letters column. A reader commented in part as follows:

“As a product of the Washoe Co. School Dist. and citizen of Reno since 1969, kindly allow me to weigh in on the public embarrassment that is the Washoe County School Board. Myself and countless other local employers never hire graduates of this School District. Why? Quite simple, actually. The quality (or lack thereof in the vast majority of the cases) of the student that this school district produces is pathetically substandard. WCSD graduates are of no use to employers seeking quality candidates that can be further trained. While there are a miniscule few WCSD graduates that could cut the mustard, it is simply too time consuming and expensive to weed out the vast majority of the others.”

There is no basis for this kind of criticism of the graduates. While it is true that Nevada ranks poorly in national education rankings, it is a mistake to let that factor overlap onto Washoe County. There is always room, certainly, for improvement, but there is much to be proud of in our school district.

In most of the indices we have by which a fair comparison can be made, Washoe students perform better than the state and national averages.

Washoe graduates outperform the national averages for both ACT and SATs.

In 2015 figures, WCSD graduates scores are 502 in reading, 504 in math, and 476 in writing. The comparable statewide scores are 491, 490, 466. National graduate scores, 489, 498, 475.

According to the College Board, a nonprofit organization with no particular Nevada axes to grind, about a third of high school graduates nationally took at least 1 advanced placement course before graduating. In Washoe County, most students do so—56 percent. Again according to CB, the number who pass those courses is higher in Nevada than nationally.

These are not a miniscule few. Plainly, the bulk of graduates are able and skilled, and businesspeople who overlook them because of political disagreements with policymakers are being foolish.

It’s true that there is debate over Washoe graduation rates, and that Superintendent Traci Davis has agreed to take action to remedy the problem that attracted criticism.

Our reader also made comments about “basket weaving” courses in Washoe schools, a hoary old chestnut that, however, he did not substantiate. We checked. There are no basket weaving classes in Washoe schools. And nothing in available figures suggests that unusual or exotic courses are undercutting the performance of Washoe students.

This newspaper has made clear in its reporting (“Board games,” Oct. 23, 2014) that the school board got a bad rap at the hands of a state attorney general who, unwilling to face down community anger, violated her own office’s procedures in order to impose fines on board members who followed their lawyer’s advice. But whether readers agree about the board or not, the students the Washoe County School Board is turning out should not suffer when they are performing so capably.