In education, keeping an eye on equal opportunity
On the occasion of two key civil rights anniversaries, the chair of the Clark County Black Caucus shares her perspective on the challenges faced by African-Americans in Nevada.
BY YVETTE WILLIAMS
As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, it is a good time to reflect on the current state of educational and economic opportunity for black Nevadans.
On Oct. 1, the Clark County Black Caucus received an important notification from the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. It indicated that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has announced guidelines to ensure that all students have equal access to educational resources — academic and extracurricular programs, strong teaching, technology and instructional materials, safe school facilities — so they can have an equal opportunity to succeed in school, careers and life. Sent to school districts in every state, these guidelines identify how the Office of Civil Rights addresses resource equity in our nation’s schools.
Historically, most black students attended one of the Prime Six schools on the historic westside of Las Vegas. Today, 29 schools have black student populations over 25% and continue, unfortunately, to have some of the lowest math and English proficiencies in the Clark County School District. The greatest disparity is unique to students receiving free and reduced lunch: This represents 32,371 students, or 72% of the total Black student population in Clark County. ELL or “English as a second language” students also struggle with lower proficiencies, representing approximately 15% or 51,000 students in CCSD.
Unfortunately, under the cloak of “free and reduced lunch,” black students have remained invisible without adequate policy and equitable resources to address their needs and barriers.
It is vital that legislation and school policy implement the tracking of free and reduced lunch students by ethnicity and other subgroups, so that data can be obtained, analyzed and addressed. This is essential to improving educational outcomes for these students, and ensuring them the rights declared 60 years ago, “which must be made available to all on equal terms.”
This staggering number of students on free and reduced lunch is a reflection of the lack of job opportunity for their parents. Jobs traditionally passed down generation to generation — such as building trades, hospitality and service industries — elude many Blacks that may apply.
It’s important to note that students qualify for free and reduced lunch based on their parents’ income. As we continue to see high unemployment and underemployment for African Americans in Clark County, we as a community must seriously address economic disparity if we want to achieve the goals established in 1954 on education and 1964 for civil rights.
For more information on the Office of Civil Rights guidelines go to www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/resourcecomparability.html and to learn more about the plight of 32,371 students go to www.ccblackcaucus.com and click on “Education Committee.”