Angie Sullivan teaches young children in the public schools of Clark County (Las Vegas), Nevada. Her school is a Title I School. She often excoriates the legislature for ignoring the needs of the state’s neediest children. In this post, which she sent to legislators and journalists, she reminds them that Nevada’s charter schools are among the lowest performing schools in the state, and that their so-called Achievement School District, modeled on the ASD that failed in Tennessee, is also a massive failure.

The Nevada ASD

The Achievement School District is the biggest reform failure in the state of Nevada.

Built on the flawed premise that charters are a remedy for failing public schools, the ASD forces 6 failing public schools into charters. Unfortunately, the worst academic performers in Nevada are charters. Charters are not a remedy. There are zero excellent charters in Nevada. And certainly zero excellent charters in places needing remedy in Nevada.

This is a description of Nevada ASD.

When implemented, no one wanted the ASD job. Certainly no one in the Nevada community wanted the task.

Eventually a young woman Jana Wilcox Lavin with a background in public relations and marketing was imported from the failed Tennessee ASD model to form the new Nevada ASD.

Jana immediately announced she did not want to “takeover” an older school facility. Her primary concern was plumbing. Seems that her “takeover” in Tennessee had issues with pipes she did not want to deal with again. Also charter vendors are not attracted to rural communities. And charter takeover of a failing charter was not an option. Proving ASD charters were not a remedy for student achievement but a business function since they do not go where a remedy for student achievement is needed the most.

Jana has moved on and is now at Opportunity 180. That organization had $10 million (including funds from Eli Broad) under former Nevada State School Board Member Allison Serafin to bring non-profit charters to Nevada. Opportunity 180 also failed.

Due to low per pupil funding, ASD and Opportunity 180 did not attract any quality charter vendors. It certainly did not attract quality vendors with education experience dealing with high poverty and high language learning populations.

Some scary vendors were chosen – later to be excluded.

As mentioned before, the selection process for the ASD was unfair with schools being “chosen” in urban Vegas because the facilities were new. I believe the ASD thought minority parents would be easily swayed to become a charter. They were wrong.

The underperforming list was very telling. Half the list were rural schools and charters. Many listed were immediately disqualified because they were already charters. Outside charter vendors had zero appetite for rural school takeover. No one had an appetite for rural school takeover. Again proving the ASD is not a function of doing what is best for all Nevada students.

The ASD moved to force the six charter vendors on minority communities in Vegas.

Low Performing Vegas schools were the victims. While a very small handful of parents welcomed becoming a charter, overwhelmingly the community came out by the thousands rejecting “takeover”. The community is tired of failed experimentation on communities of color by outsiders. Decades of invasion has taught our parents to be highly skeptical and critical of crazy ideas imposed by top-down policy makers who do not know or care about our kids.

The ASD ended up taking in the Agassi Charters and a very tiny four teacher Futuro started by Allison Serafin’s TFA friends. Some schools ended up with a “compact” since there was no one willing to take them over.

During the last legislative session, correction of this failed reform was attempted. Unfortunately the revised legislation may have been worse than the current version with teacher voice squelched and parent trigger like language. The correction was about forcing charters with even stronger language. Hard to explain the poison pills the NVDOE wanted to place in the revision but they were nasty. While some pieces of the new legislation were better; other pieces were worse. Unfortunate maneuvering by the NVDOE and the ASD. Taught me a lot about the individuals at the NVDOE and how little they know about my community.

We needed to change the ASD legislation but the poison was too hard to swallow.

We are stuck with a system which parents already rejected.

This years underperforming list looks to be similar to last years list. The lowest of the low performers are obviously charter schools and rural schools once again.

Elementary Schools

CCSD Bottom 5% – 12 Schools (5%)
CCSD Low Performing – 14 Schools (6%)
CCSD has 216 elementary schools. (11%)

Washoe Bottom 5% – 3 Schools (5%)
Washoe Low Performing – 5 Schools (8%)
WCSD has 60 elementary schools (13%)

Rural Bottom 5% – 3 Schools
Rural Low Performing- 8 Schools
** 100% of schools in most places are failing – since often only a singular choice is offered**

Charter Bottom 5% – 1 Schools (4%)
Charter Low Performing – 4 Schools (17%)
24 charters – (21%)

Middle Schools

CCSD Bottom 5% – 2 schools (3%)
CCSD Low Performing – 6 schools (10%)
CCSD has 59 middle schools. (13%)

Washoe Low Performing – 2 schools (13%)
WCSD has 15 middle schools (13%)

Rural Bottom 5% – 5 schools
Rural Low Performing – 4 schools
** 100% of schools in most places are failing – since often only a singular choice is offered**

High Schools

CCSD – 4 schools
CCSD has 49 high schools. (8%)

Rural – 5 schools
** 100% of schools in most places are failing – since often only a singular choice is offered**

Charters – 8 schools (67%)
24 charters – 12 having high schools

Nevada has 24 charters. 11 are on the list. 46% of charters are performing lowest of the low. Mater (Academica) , NV Connections, Nevada Virtual, Quest, Delta Academy, Innovations, Odyssey, Beacon, Encompass, Silver State, and I Can Do Anything.

Elko County has nine schools. 7 are on the list. 78% of its schools.

Places like McDermitt which serves primarily Native Americans – 100% of its schools are on the list for elementary and high school.

Unfortunately the list still includes schools which are obviously credit retrieval and alternative programs. This should be fixed instead of continuing to list obvious programs already identified as specialized.

Alternative Schools
CCSD Desert Rose
Nye Pathways

In summary:

If ASD is really about improving student achievement and not a Vegas school grab – it will look at the data.

Reform rural schools first since there is zero other school choice in those locations. Some places have the most obvious and overwhelming need. Start in Elko and McDermitt. ASD should focus on places with 100% of schools failing – which are most of the rural schools listed and a third of the list.

In addition, all schools listed should be allowed to make a compact instead of charter takeover if targeted. This was allowed last year and set a precedent.

If CCSD schools are the only schools targeted again for takeover – it will be obvious to everyone this is unfair according to the data. Also, Vegas offers choice by magnet, zone variance, and location. Parents can move students because we have 351 schools not a singular choice.

Charters under scrutiny by the State Public Charter Authority, in receivership, or under investigation should not be allowed to “escape” by opting in to the ASD. That would include all of them on the low performing lists. Nevada Charters have avoided accountability for too long. They need to be closed if they are failing.

Personal note: Also listed are many schools with ZOOM, Victory, SB178 money. This shows that money is obviously required and the Vegas schools labeled Low Performing are filled with students experiencing high poverty and language learners. Since this funding was recently legislated, especially the weighted funding, those places should be left alone to see if those funds can work.

I will be watching ASD closely to make sure it makes it choices based on student achievement . . . and not nice real estate or extra money.

Forcing a charter on minority communities is not school choice.

And that is why Nevada ASD is a huge policy failure.