Clark County School District students — particularly black and Hispanic students — have unequal access to opportunities at every level of education in the system, according to a report released Tuesday.
The district’s 13-member Student Equity and Access Commission, composed of Clark County community members, identified four “failure points” causing some students to miss out on opportunities offered to others: unequal access to preschool; racial disparities in gifted and talented programs in elementary school; and fewer opportunities to enroll in accelerated courses in both middle and high school.
“There are lots of leaks in our system where access is denied or opportunities are snuffed,” said Punam Mathur, executive director of the Elaine P. Wynn and Family Foundation and a member of the commission. “However, we found there are four major valves in which hope and kids are falling.”
The result of the pipeline of the missed opportunities creates cycles of inequity, the commission found, including lower achievement and graduation rates for African American and Hispanic students.
“If pre-K becomes the starting gate on the pathway to actualize my potential, to not have a place at the starting gate is something that should be wholly, entirely unacceptable to all of us as a community,” Mathur said of data that showed that 60 percent of eligible Clark County youngsters aren’t enrolled in a pre-kindergarten program.
The report includes recommendations to address the equity gaps.
For middle and high school students, the commission found that only one-third of middle schools offer a geometry honors course, and most of those schools are in suburban areas. The commission recommended creating additional advanced course offerings in schools that serve more African American and Hispanic students.
Speaking at the presentation of the report, Superintendent Jesus Jara said the district is already taking action based on the findings of the commission: The district will start testing all second graders for the gifted and talented program.
The racial inequality in the GATE program was one thing that Mike Barton, CCSD’s chief college, career and equity officer, found most surprising. The report found that while African American students constitute 16 percent of the student population, they account for only 6 percent of GATE enrollment. For Hispanic students, who make up 52 percent of the student population, GATE enrollment is at 34 percent.
The expected cost to screen every second grader for the program will be a couple hundred thousand dollars, according to Barton, and could require the hiring of more GATE teachers.
“That’s a good problem to have,” Barton said.