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Friday, August 17, 2018

What's Wrong with Clark County Schools

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.

We are.

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.

You do.

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.

CCSD Fine Arts Program Leader


Anonymous said...

Ms. Bean, I just want to know how you invaded my brain, read my thoughts, then articulately wrote about them? (:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for saying this. I am one of those teachers who is facing the potential of 40+ students per class. I've been screamed at by parents becasue I dare to say their child is acting like a jerk. I had a mother falsely accuse me of intimidating her son becasue I took off my jacket (true story.) But, I've also had parents request I teach their child becasue I did such a great job with their son/daughter the year or two before. I can't tell you how many times I've been nearly hit by a parent in my car just trying to get into the parking lot of my school and park my car. How often I must tell a student they can't use a certain entrance and that their parent needs to use the other parking lot to drop them off in only to be told this is how they have done it since the first day of school.
There are 41 desks in my classroom and it's tight. The kids barely have enough room to move and yet, I'm not supposed to just have them sit. And God help me if I have a hard lock-down. My room looks like a Jonestown aftermath.
Thank you for being the parent who understands.

Anonymous said...

I’m a teacher at an at-risk title 1 school in CCSD. I’ve worked at the same school for almost 20 years. I love working with kids who are less than priveledged. The biggest problem is parents who don’t discipline their kids. Teaching is awesome! I love it, but disciplining kids at school who receive no discipline at home is a battle that cannot be won.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this. I'm an educator in the district and a parent of children who goes to CCSD schools. I agree with what you wrote, and I'm so glad you did. I hope people who read this take a stand and start doing what needs to be done to fix the problems, because it is the right thing to do to change this crisis around.

Anonymous said...

I am a teacher in a public magnet high school in Las Vegas(16th year in the district), over 20 years teaching total. I appreciate how open, honest and articulately you spoke. You touched on all the things that most of my colleagues think about everyday. We love our profession and we love our students, but we are bewildered by CCSD, parents and the public perception of us as educators and what our “job” is, regarding education. Thank you for speaking the truth and OUR truth. I appreciate you!!!

Mama Bean said...

Wow- thank you everyone! This is really blowing up and being shared all over!

Gregorio! said...

I worked in CCSD for ten years. One of the biggest motivators for me to move out of state was the fact that the Las Vegas community doesn’t value education or being educated.

Anonymous said...

As an elementary school administrator, I thank you. As a parent, I thank you. As an educator with over 30 years of experience, I thank you.

Anonymous said...

The new problem is, now they are trying to "equalize" everybody, so class sizes are rising even in the magnetschools, and programs cut of there aren't enough students I the class (45!!!). They to teach a theatre or photography class to 45 kids - impossible. So the good teachers are leaving.

Unknown said...

Thank you for supporting our schools and your kids!
Common sense blog.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing this! I have been an educator for more than 15 years and I am so tired of the parents who actually believe they are not responsible for educating their child in any way. While I love kids, and I love to teach, I did not give birth to these children. My job is supposed to begin 30 minutes before the school day begins and end 30 minutes after the final bell rings. I knew that would not be the case, but I honestly never expected to be faced with parents and a system who fully believe these children are supposed to be the only thing I care about in my life. Apparently, I am supposed to give up my family for these children . I am supposed to give up my recreation time for these children. I am supposed to spend my hard-earned and barely sufficient paycheck on these children. And finally, I am not supposed to ever be upset about these ridiculous expectations or speak out against them, because I chose to be a teacher. Well, every one of these parents chose to have a child . But there is never an expectation that they raise them, teach them, feed them, clothe them properly. How is this the world we live in now? Parents everywhere need to get their crap together and recognize THEY brought these young lives into the world. THEY are responsible for supporting education. THEY are the missing component from education in the 21st century. I show up. I teach. I care. I will stand in front of a bullet if necessary. But I will no longer be treated as a servant to selfish parents/children. My life and the life of my family MUST take precedence over the outrageous expectations hoisted upon teachers. And yet, sadly, because of this very broken system in this very broken district, I cannot sign my name to this post for fear of retaliation for simply wanting my career to be just career, not my entire life.

Anonymous said...

For the parents who are ignorant enough to believe it is solely the job of schools to educate your children, be advised that kids spend 86.68% of their actual time outside of a school building. If they are banking of the 13.32% of their time spent in schools to suffice, they need to accept the end results that are due to their own lack of effort. It’s just a weak cop out to blame the teachers.

Anonymous said...

Our oldest son has special needs. He had teachers who cared but couldn't help because of bad policy. The schools(he went to several) he attended had the programs he needed. The principals said no because it cost his school extra money. We had a meeting with the district official over special programs. We brought with us state representatives proving his need for help. The cowardly principal sat behind the district rep and didn't say a word. In short they said it's the principals decision and if you don't like it then sue us.
We moved to a district that has given our son more than ccsd ever offered and they were glad to do it. He is doing well now.
Keep up the good fight everyone.

Unknown said...

Yes, Dear parents, if you don't, they won't and we teachers can't. Education begins at home and is ongoing forever for all of us. Thank you

Grandma said...

I am 75, when I was in school the worst thing that could happen would be bringing a letter home from the teacher--my parents were American born to immigrant parents, the teacher was always RIGHT!! My grandparents thought the only way to improve your lot in life was to get an education--so they pushed their children, who in turn pushed their children. My two children were brought up to value education and respect their teachers-they both earned engineering degrees. Unfortunately that pattern did not filter down to my grandchildren--they were using computers when they were in preschool, when one came home and said she wasn't doing well because the teacher didn't like her, my daughter went and had her switched to another class-this was 2nd grade!! So I agree with many of the comments above-there is no longer respect for teachers or education. The parents feel like they send their kids to school and have no responsibility to teach them manners, respect or check their homework. I worked with a woman that found out 5 months before school's end that her daughter didn't have enough credits to graduate!! One of the other women asked why she hadn't gone on line to check on her daughter's progress--she said she expected the school to contact her if there was a problem!! I don't want to sound racist but this was a white mother in a supervisory position---not a poor woman holding down two jobs!! Until we get back to the basics and respect for each other, respect for teachers, a value of education there will not be a change in the system. As someone said - you can't fix stupid. And it isn't the kids that are stupid!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I love this City and care about our kids! Our schools and especially our TEACHERS can only do so much! It comes down to the children's home life and value the parents place in education! The sad truth is Vegas is one of very few cities where someone can take a few weeks/months training to be a dealer and strive to make a decent living. My kids are a product of CCSD school system and they are doing well. My daughter graduated from UNLV just passed her accreditation exam in the healthcare profession and has two more years to graduate with an advanced degree in a top ivy league school in the east coast. This is a testament to a very good public school system and hopefully and I believe, some good parenting.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article. There's one thing you forgot. The Common Core. CCSD treats it as if it is gold. First off it's a standard. CCSD has made it their curriculum. Schools (speaking for elementary only) have zero curriculum. Teachers interpret the standard and write a lesson from there. If you happen to be a first year teacher with no experience, the student loses out. Many teachers rely on Teachers Pay Teachers for their assignments or search the internet for hours on end to meet the standards. It doesn't matter id you have 15 kids or 40 kids in a room. If you don't have curriculum you really don't have much. That's just my opinion.

Unknown said...

wow i am blown away first off you are amazing and 2nd i clearly know the soltion for this you need to be the head of the school district or the head of banging parents heads together this is the best well explained thoughts about this i have ever read or heard MAMA BEAN your wisdom and insight into this is clearly the solurtion i thnk you are the solution I APPLAUAD YOU

Anonymous said...

I started to read this fully expecting it to be a typical article/blog criticizing our district - and want to thank you for every word. It was a great way to start my week knowing there are people who do value and appreciate the work we do every day! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much! As a teacher, I so appreciate your words. Please keep spreading your message 😊

Anonymous said...

Agree completely! It's so overwhelming on top of everything we do in the classroom, creating our own materials from different sources.

Anonymous said...

My daughter was one of those 23 National Merit Scholars. I know what school you are talking about. High test scores, high grades, hs sport, including team captain, club sport since she was 9 (6 days a week, 3 hours a day) and she still didn't get into her top choices. It's no joke what you need to do to compete with the rest of the country! And I've been saying for years that schools haven't changed, the family's priorities for education have. "You get out of your education what you put into it." But parents who don't value education (their choice) or aren't home to enforce education (not their choice, perhaps) have the biggest effect. That school with all the National Merits is a zoned school, not a CTA. They do an amazing job of raising up the zone kids, too.

Unknown said...

I teach at a Title One high school, but I teach honors English. Somr of my students'families are very poor, and many don't speak English. However, I have rarely encountered a parent who didn't fully support their child's education. In fact, most are adamant that their kids make the most of every opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their future children.

Good and bad parents exist at all socioeconomic levels. This deficit is simply more visible with poor, minority, or non-native English speaking students.

Mama Bean said...

Amy- you hit the nail on the head! Some of the most adamant, involved parents are the ones that have struggled for what they have. They understand that education is the key to a better future.

I graduated from Cornell and every year we host a reception for the newly accepted students. They are all very different- some have parents who are doctors, others have housekeepers. The common factor were the parents. They were engaged. One woman worked two jobs at minimum wage so that her son wouldn't have to work and could attend the IB program at Valley. He took the bus for an hour each way. And there he stood next to a young man who attended boarding school. They had far more in common than not- they were both bright, funny, great kids. Different paths to get there, but they ended up at the same place.

That's the beauty of education- it can be equalizer.

But the parents that view schools as the enemy or teachers as an obstacle... I just don't get it.

It has NOT been our experience in the least.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mama Bean! You must be clairvoyant! I am a hard working veteran of 21 years in the CCSD trenches. The worst problem I face is the continual decline in the maturity level of high school students I teach. I dealing with some of the parents, unfortunately I can see why. It is disheartening and discouraging, but I soldier on. There are always some students who still care, and they make it all worthwhile. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

There ARE only so many hours in the day 🤦‍♂️

Anonymous said...

Mama Bean covered almost everything that we all think about and are not able to change. the overly large classes do not allow good teacher individual student interaction. There are many students who wish to learn but there are an equal number who don't. Raises are now based on how well the students do. Have a class full of those who never come to school (and are not put out) or who come and literally do nothing no matter how hard you try, is disheartening The majority of teachers I know lament daily that for some reason the kids are just not interested. They feel they don't need to know this or that because they will either be working with their dad or a relative. Thank you Mama Bean for your very astute blog.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your article! I think I teach at the school you referenced and I might have had your son in one of my larger classes last year (I might be reading between lines, but it reads pretty familiar!) Either way, thank you for writing this. It is so wonderful to hear from parents who recognize the struggles we have in CCSD. I love my school, I love my classes (50+ & all), but we have to start figuring out how to make the budgets work more efficiently. We have to recognize that teachers and parents need to be partners, not adversaries. Our kids need to see that coordination and united fronts to help them realize that education is an important step to their futures! Thank you, a million times, thank you.