Nevadans held back

Photo: Sean Gallup/THINKSTOCK An annual survey has strengthened the notion that success is better pursued outside of Nevada and that education is part of the problem.

Nevada often suffers from comparison rankings of quality of life factors among the states. Two recent surveys go further, suggesting that Nevada is not a good place to get ahead in life.

A month ago, a report by researchers in Brooklyn and Boston ranked Nevada dead last in providing opportunity to its residents and businesspeople (“Opportunity doesn’t knock,” RN&R, Dec. 19). Last week, that message was reinforced by a report in Education Week ranking Nevada in the bottom half of states in educating its elementary and secondary school students, and dead last in positioning those same students for success.

Education Week, founded in 1959 as the Chronicle of Higher Education, has covered the elementary and secondary schools beat since 1966. It is published by a Maryland firm. Three editions each year provide special reports, on technology in the schools, graduation success, and the quality of education.

Its Jan. 9 edition contained its annual “Quality Counts” survey on the quality of education in each of the United States. Nevada received poor grades in six out of six categories.

The publication declined to release full cumulative state rankings, so comparing Nevada to other states overall is difficult. Education Week researcher Sterling Lloyd told us, “Due to delays stemming from the recent federal government shutdown, data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey had not been released by our publication deadline for the print edition of the report.” Thus the “chances for success” indicator was still being updated online, and so cumulative state scores could not be provided. The publication did provide state rankings within the six categories:

In the “Chance for Success Index,” Nevada received a D grade, placing 51 in the nation, meaning it has dropped eight places since 2007, when it placed 43. The average for all states is C-plus.

In kindergarten through 12th grade achievement, Nevada received a D-plus, placing 36. The average state grade is C-minus.

In school finance analysis, Nevada received a D, placing 48 in the nation. The average state grade is a D.

In transitions and alignments (how well the school system helps students cope with moving from one school stage to another), Nevada received a C, placing 36. Its ranking compared to the average showing by states of B-minus.

In standards, assessments and accountability, Nevada received a C, placing 45 in the nation. The average among states is a B.

And in grading the teaching profession within Nevada, the publication gave the state a C-minus, which ranked it 28, its highest showing. The average of other states is a C.

All of Nevada’s rankings are in the lower half of the states.

The “chance for success” ranking, which comes on the heels of the “lack of opportunity” finding for Nevada, is troubling to some state officials.

School funding

Washoe County Sen. Debbie Smith of Sparks, who chairs the Senate budget committee and sits on its taxation committee, pointed out that Education Week has “had us ranked poorly for a while,” suggesting that things can’t be solved quickly.

“It’s very much about our ability to fund preschool, full day kindergarten,” she said. “We have an extreme number of children living in poverty. I’m more worried about that every day. I think last [legislative] session we continued to hear people say we need to better fund education. And it’s not just about education. We have health needs, infrastructure needs, cultural needs, mental health, economic development. We need a bigger conversation.”

The index is based on 14 indicators in each state. They are family income (number of children in families with incomes of at least 200 percent of the federal poverty level), parent education level (number of children with at least one parent with a college degree), parental employment (number of children with at least one parent employed), English speaking in the family (children whose parents speak English well), preschool enrollment levels, kindergarten enrollment levels, fourth grade reading levels, eighth grade math proficiency, high school graduation levels, young adult college levels, adult college graduation rate, adult income (number of adult workers with incomes above the national level), and employment (number of adults in full time, year round jobs).

A statement from Education Week gives some idea of the context of Nevada’s placement among the states in the “chance for success” category: “Massachusetts remains at the top of the national rankings for the seventh year running, earning the only A-minus, followed closely by Connecticut, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and North Dakota, each posting grades of B-plus. Mississippi and New Mexico receive grades of D-plus, while Nevada scores lowest with a D.”

On school finance systems, there was no discernible pattern. Small Western states did extremely well, and very poorly: “For the sixth year in a row, Wyoming ranks first and posts an A-minus. The states claiming the next three slots—West Virginia, New York and Connecticut—earn grades of B-plus. At the other end of the rankings, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah receive grades of D, and Idaho scores lowest with a D-minus.”

There has been some criticism of the publication’s methodology in adjudging the states’ chance for success climate. Another education publication, EducationNext, noted in 2010 that the “Quality Counts” rankings are eagerly awaited each year and so urged that they be made as reliable as possible by narrowing the indices used and also justifying those indices better.

“Not all of these have a clear relationship to post-secondary success, and several are beyond the control of state policymakers,” wrote Margaret Raymond of the Hoover Institution at Stanford in the publication’s analysis of the success index.

Raymond and her team were critical of the failure to explain the linkage between some of the indices and success.

“Nowhere do the Quality Counts editors show how or why the Chance-for-Success Index is a good predictor of success. Instead, they provide statistics that divert attention away from the things that actually do matter, such as high-quality teaching, a good range of school options, and success in early elementary schools.”

They recommended that Education Week use indicators that are more directly related to education and fewer to family income and employment factors. Going further, Raymond and team ran calculations that narrowed Education Week’s 14 indicators to preschool enrollment, kindergarten enrollment, 4th grade reading, 8th grade mathematics, and high school graduation. Nevada dropped from its 2010 ranking of 50 to 51 under that calculation.

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About Dennis Myers 1397 Articles
Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely Nevada, a children’s history textbook, and a contributor to the books The Mythical West and Covering the Courts in Nevada. In September, 2020, he was inducted into the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame.