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VICTOR JOECKS: CCSD magnet schools are disproportionately female, Asian

By the Clark County School District’s logic, racism and sexism are running amok in its high school magnet programs. That’s because female and Asian students are vastly overrepresented in those offerings.

Acting on that mistaken belief could damage magnet programs and students of all demographics for years to come. Unfortunately, Superintendent Jesus Jara is doing just that.

The district offers magnet programs in elementary, middle and high schools. The demographics in its elementary and middle school magnet programs generally mirror the district as a whole. The district provided demographic numbers in response to a public records request.

In high school, though, the disparities are stark. African American students make up 14.5 percent of district students. Just 8 percent of high school magnet students are black. Just 6.3 percent of students are Asian, but they make up 14 percent of magnet students. Both white and Hispanic students closely match district demographics.

The gender gap is even larger. Males make up 51.6 percent of all students. In high school magnet programs, however, just 43 percent of participants are males. There are 17 high school magnet programs, including technical schools. At just two, ATECH and Eldorado, do males make up 51 percent or more of the students. Those schools offer programs in engineering, Cisco networking, video game technology and robotics.

Up to this point, there’s been a significant difference between the high school programs and those in lower grades. High school students have to meet certain criteria, including an academic standard, to apply. Eligible students select the schools they want to attend. If there are more applicants than seats, students are selected via lottery.

Even though it’s hard to find racism in a blind draw, Jara didn’t like the demographic results. That’s not surprising because when it comes to school discipline, district officials have long viewed a disparity as de facto proof of racism. They’re taking the same approach here.

In pursuit of racial diversity, Jara is lowering standards. Last October, the district dropped behavioral and attendance requirements for students applying for next school year. He also eliminated academic standards for non-STEM programs.

The underrepresentation of male and African American students is worrisome, but not because it shows selection bias. The magnet program disparity reflects only how miserably the district fails those students.

For 2019, the Nation’s Report Card showed that 45 percent of the district’s Asian students were proficient in reading. Just 14 percent of its black students were. Females outperformed males, 32 percent to 22 percent, in meeting that standard. Boys did better in math, tying the girls at 24 percent proficient. The gap between Asian and African American students, however, expanded — 50 percent to 10 percent.

Attribute those achievement gaps to whatever you want — single-parent families, poverty, racism or a combination of many factors. The worst thing you can do for struggling students is to place them into a program designed for high achievers. That’s not setting them up for lifelong success. That’s setting them to up to get left behind in an academic environment that they’re not ready for. Alternatively, it lowers standards in the magnet program, which defeats the whole point. Jara’s plan also hurts the high-achieving students who otherwise would have been able to participate in the program.

This mindset could one day kill the magnet program entirely. That’s not hyperbole. In New York City, a task force put together by the mayor recommended shutting down its Gifted and Talented program, because of racial disparities.

If district officials are concerned some students can’t meet the academic requirements for magnet programs, they should help them achieve, not lower the bar.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen to him discuss his columns each Monday at 10 a.m. with Kevin Wall on 790 Talk Now. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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