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Education

Why AB 456 is a huge middle finger to Nevada’s education system

Don’t know much about math? Science? Reading? Don’t worry about it

Update: Sandoval vetoed Assembly Bill 456 on June 1, saying, "Although this bill may allow more students to graduate from high school, it represents diminished expectations for our student and lower standards for obtaining a high school diploma in Nevada.”

All you need to know about why Gov. Brian Sandoval must veto AB 456 you can learn from this parlor game my partner and I play in social company.

For one miserable semester in 2004, I tried to teach journalism at UNLV, except that almost every student was so functionally illiterate I actually taught remedial English. On election night that year, each student received unique orders to chat up a certain demographic or to ask about certain topics at political gatherings. The girl assigned to ask foreign policy questions rendered a story that included this “word”: Alkita.

It took me only a moment to decipher, but over cocktails, friends offer many answers. A breed of dog? No. A battery part? No. Someone’s name? No.

That, dear readers, was how this Las Vegas child spells the name of America’s worst enemy, Al Qaeda. How many kids in 1943, pray tell, wrote about the nahceez?

The best part: She later begged me for a B to maintain her Millennium Scholarship. Which is to say, this girl who couldn’t distinguish a comma from a Cadillac graduated a Nevada high school with at least a B average to qualify for that. When I refused, she growled at me, “All my other teachers say I’m a great writer.”

In subsequent years, I sat appalled as the GOP and the Review-Journal Editorial Board insisted public schools could somehow do better with less. And I believed Democrats had their priorities right when they fought for more money to recruit better teachers.

Then, last week, as the Close Enuf! Bill, aka AB 456, headed for Sandoval’s desk, I realized the Democrats are also full of crap. This disgusting measure would make it so students don't need to pass all four proficiency tests—math, science, reading and writing—to graduate. State Sen. Mo Denis claimed Close Enuf! won’t “water down the test,” and that’s true. It does something worse; it waters down the whole stupid diploma. And every Democrat voted for it.

An R-J report last week cited a Liberty High student who failed the writing exam four times and was in danger of not getting to go play college football. The boy, who passed on his fifth try, is photographed smiling, happy to be Exhibit A of how badly educated our kids are and how little our legislators care.

Near the end of the R-J’s story, Close Enuf! advocate Jeff Geihs, the principal at Liberty, bemoans the awful pressure students are under to pass and the trauma they endure when they flunk: “It’s absolutely devastating. Students have needed counseling.”

Uh, really? These are kids who care so much about their studies and are so worried about their parents’ opinions that they're debilitated by failure on an exam designed to ascertain a bare minimum of competency? Or maybe they just lose it because they’re so unaccustomed to their compliant society actually sticking by its rules? How dare we expect them to produce some evidence that this decade of public education made them modestly functional?

Oh, Close Enuf! supporters must say, you such a nahcee! These are fragile children! Their precious self-esteem is so crucial! But so is knowing how to gracefully accept failure and learn from it.

What happens to that football player when his team loses? Does the squad fling themselves off the Stratosphere en masse? No. They regroup; they practice harder and they get ready for the next game. And if our hero falls a yard short of the winning touchdown, do the refs give it to him anyway to spare his feelings? Of course not.

An athlete ought to be the first to understand that rules are rules and the score matters. And every lawmaker must be troubled with just how disastrously the state has disappointed a child who fails a test four times.

Seriously, how hard could it be? I mean, Alkita girl passed it, didn’t she?

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Steve Friess

Steve Friess is a freelance journalist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His work has appeared in the New York Times, ...

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