Last night we had our daughter's open house at her middle school. This morning I dropped my son off at the bus hub for high school.
Both experiences reinforced my views that I had shared with a friend earlier in the week on what is wrong with the Clark County (NV) School District.
My friend is in a position of influence and was genuinely interested in what I thought as a parent of a CCSD students, spouse of a teacher and a long time volunteer with the district.
I said very simply I thought there were three main issues:
1) Poor fiscal management at the top.
2) Classroom size is ridiculous.
3) You can't fix stupid.
The first one has to do with the district's assertion that there is a $68 million shortage- as if they did not receive every penny of funding they requested-- and then some. Then they try to blame the teacher pay raises, which they agreed to in negotiations and an arbitrator reinforced. Since my background is in labor relations, I am baffled that EVERY SINGLE YEAR there is an issue with them actually paying out the raises that they agreed to in collective bargaining. Every year there is a lawsuit. Every year, the district loses. Then they blame the teachers for the shortage. Or the legislature.
The truth is, they have consistently mismanaged funds and they cannot seem to keep a CFO. I don't think people are stealing money or anything like that. I think the state's funding methods are odd and not working. I think the district needs to review how they allocate funds and how they then manage those budgets. I think they need to honor the contracts they negotiate.
This constant year to year "crisis" is getting old We have not been in a recession for nearly a decade. We have the lowest funding per pupil in the country.
Get it together. It's your job.
The second one is baffling. My daughter's 7th grade accelerated history class has 41 students. Elementary classes are routinely over 35 students. When my husband taught high school, one year he didn't have enough desks or textbooks if everyone showed up. That's what happens when you have 60+ students assigned to your class.
I don't think it takes a PhD in education to determine that a high teacher:pupil ratio is bad. It's why US News and World Reports uses it as a ranking criteria in colleges. You don't see private schools bragging on their brochures about crowded classrooms. But according to CCSD, classroom size is not important.
Well, if you shove an extra 10 kids into each class, for every 3 teachers, you save 1 therefore reducing labor costs by 25%-- that's their logic.
Or, MAYBE, you could make an accurate budget and request the appropriate funding so that class size stayed under 30 for elementary and at 30-35 for middle and high school.
Because then teachers wouldn't have 200 students and 400+ parents to manage.
Then the teachers wouldn't quit or walk out. Or more importantly, that might allow the teachers to, I don't know... what's the word... teach?
If you essentially have a full schedule with 40 kids per class, how on earth are you supposed to be able to grade projects and papers? It forces teachers to resort to worksheets and "bubble" testing- less thinking required from the students. It becomes more about memorization and less about education.
There will always be great teachers who manage. But the giant classroom sizes really impacts the average teacher-- they COULD be great, but they can't if they spend their day on classroom management.
Every teacher I've spoken with says they'd be far more happier with smaller classes than a significant pay raise. They'd be happy with simple cost of living adjustments if they weren't being forced to manage classrooms that are out of control. In fact, reducing classroom sizes by 20% is a pay raise- since they are buying supplies and working more hours to keep up.
But this last one- you can't fix stupid-- that's what is the biggest issue facing the district in my opinion.
Because there are a LOT of great things about the district. International award winning robotics programs. Top notch vocational schools. A performing arts school that is extraordinary and has produced successful alumni too numerous to list. Nationally ranked varsity quiz.
My son's high school had TWENTY THREE national merit scholars last year.
Not bad for the worst school district in the country. And that was one high school out of more than 20 in the district.
The problem with the low test scores (and why on earth every kid is forced to take the ACT, I have no clue) is that Las Vegas is the dumbest major city in the US.
I LOVE my city. I don't think everyone is dumb, but on a quantifiable scale- which is how we rate schools- we have the lowest high school graduation rates and the lowest college education rates out of any major city.
We ain't the smartest population.
Last night at open house, my daughter's teachers were amazing. They are dedicated. They are passionate. They are well spoken. They are organized. They are intelligent.
There was not ONE bad teacher in the mix.
My son went to the same middle school and he had one mediocre teacher the entire time.
These people are crazy good educators. Thumbs up to the principal, too. He brings them in, gives them a positive work environment and lets them teach. He is constantly sharpening the saw and trying to improve things.
So great teacher, great principal, great facilities--
But the parents. Now most of them that were at Open House are on it.
Go to a concert. Parents talking. Parents texting. People just getting up and leaving during concerts- completely unconcerned about those around them.
The parking lot is the biggest tell tale.
Those no U Turn signs apparently don't apply. Let alone the speed limit signs. Or the crosswalk.
The Do Not Enter - Exit Only? Well, only losers like me bother to follow those rules.
My son stopped riding his bicycle to school after almost getting hit 3 days in a row from people doing U turns.
This morning dropping off my son, a woman tried to U turn into a parking spot. Another parent coming the other way, unaware that this was her intent (because who tries to pull into a spot from the opposite direction) pulled into the spot. Rather than stopping the turn, she continued it, blocking the entire street both ways. People were trying to get their kids to the bus.
Turn signals are optional, too.
So when you are working with stupid parents who have no regard for simple rules- what exactly is the school district supposed to do?
Please, explain to me.
When my daughter was in kindergarten, we were on the playground before school and talking about the "homework" they get. The teacher gave us a packet every Monday with 5 worksheets to review with our child every night and turn in on Friday. Some were simple projects like "Count 10 objects"- nothing crazy. It was about 10 minutes every day as a review of what she was covering in the classroom. It wasn't even graded-- the kids got a sticker for turning it in.
One mother commented that she hadn't understood a page and I was explaining what we had done. Another mom chimed in and said "I don't do any of that bullshit with my kid. They should be doing everything in class. I don't have time for that. It's not my job to teach my kid. That's hers."
I'm not kidding.
And another parent standing there agreed.
Stupid homework. Who does that?
As a parent, it absolutely IS my job to teach my kid.
As a parent, it absolutely IS my job to support the teacher.
Time and time again I hear that-- all this bullshit they want parents to do... who has time for that crap... lazy teachers...
You can't fix that.
"I don't have time to read to my kid every night. I'm tired."
Well, suck it up, Buttercup, pull out a book and read a story to your kid every single night before bed. It helps them learn language. It bonds you. It's your job.
And if you're working late or too tired, do it in the morning.
You've got 15 minutes.
This isn't a rich person vs. poor person thing either. I know wealthy families that treat their kids like accessory items and don't spend a minute with them. I know poor families that are all about school and doing what the teacher says. My husband taught in an at-risk school for years and said some of the poorest parents were the hardest on the kids "What do you mean you talked back to Mr. Bean?" He said he had to be careful about conferences because either the parents didn't care or they cared too much and about smacked the kid in the conference!
But you can't make a parent parent.
You can't fix a kid who thinks learning and rules and all the things that make society function "is dumb."
I cringe when people talk about how they don't need math. They have a calculator.
This is how people get ripped off. You do need to understand math.
So I sat there and told my friend that CCSD's biggest issue is the fact that they are dealing with a populace that doesn't value education or see it as a need.
And it seems to be getting worse.
There is no way to combat it. You don't take on Mom and Dad who think learning a second language is a waste of time (it's not.) Or that the Bill of Rights is liberal propaganda. (it's the Bill of Rights) Or that geometry is useless (which explains their inability to park). Or that a No U Turn sign doesn't apply to them (because that's just wrong.)
THAT is the biggest issue facing the district.
I don't think parents are any dumber or smarter than when I was a kid. I don't. The morons were around then, too.
In Las Vegas, we statistically have a fairly large percentage of morons. It's a city of second chances. It's also one of the things I love about it here-- anyone willing to work can get a break.
So asking a district to make educating children of people who place very little value ON education as a whole (again, based on statistics)-- I'm not sure how you are supposed to do it.
I know cramming 40+ in a classroom isn't helping and not every teacher is great-- but you can't teach someone who is unwilling to learn.
I think the magnets schools offer an out to those families who do place importance on education. It's unfortunate that not every student gets in.
I wish I knew how to fix this.
The school district is far from perfect-- as is any district- but I get so tired of them getting blamed for being terrible. There are some great teachers, great parents and most importantly great students here. I know this. I've met them. They are just as smart as any kid from a private school. My son will graduate having taken Calculus III. In order for my daughter to get into the arts academy, she will have to put together a professional portfolio. A real one.
It's not all bad. In fact, there is far more that's good.
But when parents don't make education a priority, you can't expect the school to fix it. They are already trying to feed the kids, dress the kids and in their spare time, teach them.
There's only so many hours in the day.
AFTER I POSTED THIS, THE NEWS RAN THE FOLLOWING STORY... SO IT'S NOT JUST IN MY IMAGINATION....
CCSD Fine Arts Program Leader