Nearly 10,000 beginning Nevada college students a year must take remedial classes because they didn't learn how to study as early as the third or fourth grades, a study concludes.
The authors of the study titled "Wasting Time and Money" wrote that fewer students would need remedial classes if public school teachers stopped trying to entertain them. and placed emphasis on the consequences of failing to meet expected standards. Students The $12,000 study was sought and paid for by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank that espouses "finding private solutions to public problems." Its positions often conflict with those of the Nevada State Education Association, the union that represents most teachers.
The authors said students must be taught early the importance of studying and learning basic math and English - "skills that require practice."
"At the heart of the Nevada problem is the issue of teaching philosophy," the authors conclude. "Generally teachers - especially elementary teachers - are taught to think of teaching and learning as a process that follows students' interests and inclinations - whether or not it leads to the achievement of curriculum objectives."
J.E. Stone, the East Tennessee State University professor who was the study's lead researcher, said the institute had nothing to do with his recommendations and no influence on the study.
He said the need for remedial help for Nevada students is shared by other states.
"Teachers today are so hassled, so confronted with issues about wanting all students to succeed," Stone told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in a telephone interview.
Keith Rheault, state superintendent of public instruction, contends Stone is wrong to suggest Nevada teachers do not push students to reach curriculum objectives. He said the state has mandated since 1999 that students pass achievement tests based on curriculum standards before they graduate from high school.
"They are making the case we are still teaching students like we did five years ago," he said. "All instruction now is allied to standards."
Rheault found nothing new in the report's finding that many students do not study enough. He said many are in class only because parents insist they attend. They are not college-bound and motivating them is difficult.
Stone and the two other authors found in the study that college students do well once they take and pass remedial classes, with 90 percent crediting the classes with helping them succeed.
Steven Miller, director of policy research for the Nevada Policy Research Institute, said the findings illustrate the failure of Nevada's "one-size-fits-all education system that essentially requires people to get training they aren't interested in."
Miller proposed a voucher system to allow students to attend alternative schools with a curriculum that would hold their interest. Although parents have a primary influence on student achievement, Miller said, good teachers also can make a difference.
Ken Lange, executive director of the Nevada State Education Association, said the study ignores the realities of education in Nevada today, one of which is middle and high school classes with 38 to 42 students.
"We cannot do as well as we would like with classes that large," Lange said. "These folks still believe we are in an age where you can put 32 kids in four rows of eight students each, have the teacher stand up front with a piece of chalk and have the kids learn the skills needed in the work world."
Lange did not deny that teachers try to motivate children by offering entertaining lesson plans, saying when he was an elementary school teacher he considered it important to have a "Johnny Carson monologue" ready for the children each morning. "We always have had learner-centered instruction," he said. "What's wrong with it?"
On the Net: Nevada Policy Research Institute Web site: www.npri.org