Wednesday, August 19, 2009

UCLA researchers: School segregation worsens in West Las Vegas

Notable statement from this report: 50 percent of the teachers in LV's poor, minority-serving schools have less than three years experience.


Neighborhood's elementary schools considered in danger of isolation by language barrier, poverty and race

August 12, 2009

Despite "substantial investment," school segregation trends are getting worse in the minority neighborhood of West Las Vegas, according to researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Because the historically black neighborhood has a growing Hispanic population, its elementary schools are in danger of triple segregation, or isolation by language barrier, poverty and race.

A third of the students at six elementary schools -- Booker, Carson, Fitzgerald, Kelly, McCall and Wendell Williams -- are limited English speakers.

"The great majority of impoverished African-Americans and Latino students remain in their low-achieving Prime Six school," said Gary Orfield, a UCLA professor of education, political science and urban planning who also is co-director of the university's Civil Rights Project.

Orfield found that few students at the Prime Six schools take advantage of opportunities to transfer elsewhere. And because the more affluent students are the most likely to leave, social isolation is growing at the schools in West Las Vegas, which is generally bordered by Carey Avenue to the north, Bonanza Road on the south, Interstate 15 on the east and Rancho Drive on the west.

The UCLA report also notes that students in West Las Vegas are taught by teachers who have less experience than the average Clark County School District teacher.

About half of the teachers at Prime Six schools have less than three years of experience while 100 percent of their students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program.

District spokesman Mike Rodriguez said that school officials are well aware that less experienced teachers are at high-poverty schools, but that the district cannot force teaching assignments.

Teachers cannot be "drafted," but the district offers incentives to attract teachers to high-poverty schools, Rodriguez said.

Student achievement at the Prime Six schools lags behind district averages and the overall averages for black and Hispanic students in math and reading. Third-graders, for instance, scored 13 to 15 percentage points below students districtwide on math and reading tests given across the country.

Except for Booker and Wendell Williams, the schools failed to show adequate yearly progress under the federal benchmarks of the No Child Left Behind Act for 2008-09. Carson and Fitzgerald are in their fifth consecutive year of needing to show improvement under the accountability law.

Aware of the disappointing results of efforts to improve opportunities for West Las Vegas students, the district asked the Civil Rights Project at UCLA to provide "an independent assessment," Orfield said.

The report on the Prime Six schools will be discussed by the Clark County School Board at 2 p.m. Thursday.

"This will be the first step in a long conversation about what needs to be done," said School Board President Terri Janison, who acknowledged the complexity of the subject.

The problem with "choice plans," such as the options available to students at Prime Six schools, is that families won't take advantage of them if they lack outside support, Orfield said in a phone interview.

Local families were not surveyed, but Orfield said "choice plans" typically suffer from lack of communication. Families also might not want to transfer their children to schools outside their neighborhoods. He said research shows that "choice plans" are likely to work if the "missing pieces" are in place.

School Board member Linda Young, who represents West Las Vegas, said the schools are providing information to families about educational opportunities, but the information is "not getting absorbed."

Young said the UCLA report "does indicate there are some disturbing issues. It's been happening for a while."

Parent Andres Mendoza called for new district leadership at a recent School Board meeting.

"The Latino parents of this community have been very patient with you," he said. "You have chosen to put our students on the back burner. We will no longer allow this to continue."

Mendoza made his remarks at an Aug. 5 workshop where West Las Vegas parents demanded permanent classrooms to replace portables at West Prep Academy, a K-12 campus near Martin Luther King and Lake Mead boulevards. The UCLA report on the West Las Vegas elementary schools was not in response or related to the West Prep controversy, district officials said.

The Prime Six Plan was developed in the early 1990s to replace court-ordered desegregation and forced busing with voluntary integration. The district is not now under a federal court order to desegregate, district officials said.

Three magnet elementary schools -- Gilbert, Mackey and Hoggard -- were organized in West Las Vegas to attract students from across the county. The three schools offer specialized academic programs and open enrollment based on lottery. Students at the Prime Six schools also were given the option to transfer to another assigned school outside West Las Vegas after their kindergarten year.

Additional opportunities to attend different schools are offered as part of No Child Left Behind, which allows students to leave failing schools.

Plus, public charter schools, such as the Andre Agassi Academy and the 100 Academy of Excellence, have opened in West Las Vegas.

Students at Prime Six schools also are being assisted by additional federal and district resources. Because they serve low-income students, the Prime Six schools are eligible for extra federal funding.

All Prime Six schools spend more per student than the district average.

Booker, Carson, Kelly and Wendell Williams spent nearly twice the district average per student in 2006-07 -- $12,628 per pupil compared with $6,913, according to the latest available accountability reports. McCall spent $10,471 per pupil. Fitzgerald spent $9,707 per student.

The district also has made significant capital investments in the Prime Six schools, including the construction of replacement schools for Booker and Wendell Williams.

The four other schools are in line for modernization and renovation if a new $249 million bond program is approved by the Clark County Debt Management Program.

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