A Vegas star

The superintendent of Clark County schools (Las Vegas), Walt Rulffes, is asking the state legislature for an expansion of his new school autonomy experiment, which has been running for less than two weeks. The program bestows upon Vegas principals more decision-making authority in return for increased accountability--much like Joel Klein's "empowerment schools" in New York City. So far, Rulffes's approach is receiving good reviews from teachers and administrators, who have responded positively to their new authority (though even the most ardent supporters say it's too soon to declare the experiment successful). But that hasn't stopped the superintendent from pressing the state legislature to implement the new management strategy in as many as forty Clark County schools--up from the current four. Teachers unions back Rulffes so long as the money for the empowerment schools comes from the legislature, and not from the existing district budget. The Clark County experiment does cost money; teachers are compensated, for example, for the program's extended school days (thirty extra minutes each day that can be used for more staff development, more class time, etc.) and extended school year (five days longer). Nevada has a biennial legislative calendar, so Rulffes has to act fast, or it could be two years before he gets another shot to increase the number of empowerment schools. It will be up to the legislature whether more accountability is a good bet. Gadfly would gamble; the odds look good.

"The freedom to teach," by Emily Richmond, Las Vegas Sun, September 10, 2006