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Analysis: Lower-performing, higher-need schools in Nevada have less experienced teachers

As educators say more money alone will not solve the problem, the state is developing tools to better understand teacher turnover.
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
EducationK-12 Education

John Diamandis is one of the most experienced teachers in Nevada. He has taught in Nevada middle and high schools for more than 25 years, following a stint teaching in Ohio. 

He teaches at John C. Fremont Middle School in Las Vegas, which is a Title I school — a federal designation meaning it has a higher percentage of students from low-income households.

He has a passion for teaching in higher-need schools, but he’s noticed a trend in his decadeslong teaching career: Schools with more needs tend to have newer teachers, who often have fewer skills than experienced educators.

“As a new teacher, you don't have the classroom management skills yet, you don’t really know what your teaching style is,” Diamandis said. “I think the Title I schools do get a lot of the newer teachers.”

State data on teacher experience backs up Diamandis’ observations.

The Nevada Independent analyzed teacher experience levels across Nevada schools in the 2022-2023 school year (the latest year with data available) by combining three state databases, a first-of-its-kind analysis because state officials have not previously reported this metric.

The analysis found that statewide, teachers in non-Title I schools had an average of more than 20 percent more experience than those in Title I schools. Additionally, schools that have not met the state’s performance standards — denoted by a “one star” rating by the state — also had significantly lower average teacher experience than higher-performing schools.

The findings underscore the difficulty in recruiting and retaining experienced teachers in higher-needs schools, one of several factors that keep these schools from improving. More teacher experience often leads to better student performance, according to a 2016 review of 30 studies on teacher experience. 

“Teachers continue to improve their practice as they gain experience,” said Susan Kemper Patrick, a senior researcher at the Learning Policy Institute, the national organization that conducted the review.

“It kind of underscores the importance of trying to keep people in the profession for longer because they're gonna get better and students are going to benefit in a lot of different ways when they have more experienced teachers,” she added.

The challenges are especially acute in the Clark County School District, which holds nearly two-thirds of the state’s students and has the biggest discrepancies in teacher experience, weighing heavily on statewide data trends.

As of Friday, the district had 370 job openings, according to the district’s job portal. Before the start of the 2022-2023 school year, there were almost 3,000 vacant staff positions open in the state, about half of which were from Clark County. 

As part of the deal that the Clark County teachers union struck with district officials last year, licensed educators at Title I schools with a 5 percent or higher vacancy rate will receive an annual $5,000 pay raise beginning next year.

Diamandis was skeptical of the measure’s effectiveness.

“I don't think teachers leave one school for another just because there's a $5,000 stipend involved,” he said.

What the data shows

Statewide, the average length of teacher experience at Nevada schools was 12 years in the 2022-2023 academic year. It’s unknown how this compares to the rest of the country because there has been no national data on educator experience since a national survey in the 2017-2018 school year.

But teacher experience averages differed depending on whether the school was categorized as Title I. Educators at Title I schools had an average of 11 years of teacher experience, while those at non-Title I schools had an average of more than 13.6 years of experience — more than a 20 percent increase.

Teacher experience also differed depending on a school’s performance. Every year, the state assigns schools a grade on a five-star scale based on whether they have met state standards.

The analysis shows a correlation between longer average teacher experience and better school rankings. For example, teachers in schools that received a one-star rating in the 2022-2023 school year had an average of 10.7 years of experience. The average amount of experience in five-star schools was 14.1 years — more than a 30 percent increase.

The differences in experience vary slightly by county. In Washoe County, for example, teachers in five-star schools had around 20 percent more experience than those in one-star schools. In Clark County, however, the difference was more than 36 percent. 

One-star schools are also predominantly located in lower-income areas, as more than 70 percent of the one-star schools in Clark County are located in ZIP codes with an above-average child poverty rate.

When looking at specific schools in Clark County, the differences are even starker.

Take, for example, Jacob E. Manch Elementary School in Clark County. The school, located in the northeast corridor of the Las Vegas Valley, is in a ZIP code that had a median household income of around $47,000 in 2022, about $20,000 less than the countywide average.

In the 2022-2023 school year, the school’s educators had an average of 6.3 years of experience, among the lowest rates in the state. The school had an English proficiency rate of around 18 percent and a math proficiency rate around 10 percent, far lower than state and county averages.

Meanwhile, Henderson’s John C. Vanderburg Elementary School is in a ZIP code with a median household income of more than $89,000, well above the countywide average. In the 2022-2023 school year, school educators had an average of 18.6 years of experience. The school received a four-star rating and had math and English proficiency rates that far exceeded state and county averages.

The principals at Vanderburg and Manch did not return emails seeking comment.

These schools reflect the disparities in socioeconomic status and teacher experience. Many of these schools with low teacher experience are located in the lower-income northeastern Las Vegas Valley, stretching into the center of the city.

Jeff Briske, the Nevada Department of Education educator licensure director, said the data in the map was both “quite something” and “not surprising at all.”

“When I first came to Nevada in 2000, the easiest place to get a job was in the Title I schools because they had the most vacancies,” Briske said.

The distribution of teachers across income levels data reflects decades of research that shows inequities in teacher experience, said Kemper Patrick of the Learning Policy Institute.

“Teacher qualifications, they’re not equally distributed across schools and schools in low-income communities often have fewer resources,” Kemper Patrick said. “And as a result, they have higher teacher turnover, they have a harder time attracting and keeping experienced effective educators.”

In rural Nevada, differences in teacher experience depending on school performance are not as stark as in Clark County. For example, rural one-star schools had an average of 12 years of teacher experience, while four-star schools had an average of 14 years of experience (there are only a handful of five-star, non-charter schools in rural areas). There was also negligible difference in teacher experience between rural Title I and non-Title I schools.

Cody Krenka, the human resources director for Elko County School District, said there are unique factors that determine the county’s teacher allocation. For example, West Wendover Middle School, which had an average of around six years of teacher experience, is in a tiny town of around 4,500 people on the Utah-Nevada border. 

“The primary economy is just the casinos around the border,” Krenka said. “[Teachers] are difficult to find.”

‘I can’t do this anymore’

Christa Everhart is in her 10th year as a teacher at Edythe and Lloyd Katz Elementary School in Las Vegas, and has spent more than two decades in Nevada schools.

But Everhart, who teaches pre-K, said the demands of being a teacher are becoming overwhelming, and thinks her time in the field is almost up — a fate she suspects many other experienced teachers are facing. 

She said teachers do not have enough discretion over how to run their classrooms and teach their students — and took issue with those making policy decisions often not being inside classrooms daily.

“I always said my students are more important to me, I'm gonna be there for them. But it's gotten to the point where I can't do that anymore because I am not emotionally stable enough to go to a toxic place and pretend to be OK,” Everhart said. “Now your experienced teachers are going to be like ‘I can't do this anymore.’”

There is no state data on the rate of experienced teachers leaving the profession, but Everhart’s situation underscores how the departure of experienced teachers can result in a loss of institutional knowledge and ultimately harm student achievement.

“It may be more likely that students are not going to have a well-prepared, fully qualified teacher on the first day of school,” said Kemper Patrick from the Learning Policy Institute.

State and county officials are taking steps that they hope will improve teacher retention.

A trio of bills passed during last year’s legislative session — AB400, AB515 and SB503 — included millions of dollars in financial assistance to aspiring teachers, including financial aid for teacher licensure programs, educator preparation programs and master’s degrees. Nevada also joined the Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact last year through SB442. The compact, which includes 10 other states, eases licensure barriers for teachers moving from one member state to another.

In 2019, the Legislature created a task force that evaluates how to better improve the teacher experience and retention. The task force recently recommended the creation of a teacher exit survey and a workplace condition survey, which are in the works.

“We hope that these two surveys give us real data on how we can actually share this with our employers, charters and districts to make working conditions better,” Briske said.

Meanwhile, the $5,000 raise that Clark County is offering beginning next year to teachers in select high-poverty schools has been tried elsewhere, but the results have been mixed. 

In Utah, legislators approved funding in 2017 for a small program that gave $5,000 bonuses — which were later upped to $7,000 — to eligible educators at high-poverty schools. An analysis by the Utah State Board of Education found that participants in the program were more likely to stay in their position, but in general, the program has done little to improve teacher recruitment and retention.

Denver Public Schools also started a program that would provide monthly and annual bonuses to teachers in select schools, but that initiative also did not result in significant changes to teacher recruitment and retention.

Kemper Patrick encouraged school districts to continue analyzing retention efforts at other districts.

“I don't know there's anywhere in the U.S. that has perfectly figured this out,” she said. “But I think there's different types of solutions that could be effective.”

Everhart said relying on bonuses won’t be enough.

“It's a farce, and they think they can throw money at it,” she said. “That's not fixing it.”


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