State data shows discipline inequities in charter schools

By: - December 7, 2020 6:05 am
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Within Nevada charter schools, Black students and students with disabilities are more likely to be involved in incidents resulting in suspensions than their peers.

The data reflects state and national data about inequities in education — a topic the State Public Charter School Authority is taking steps toward addressing.

At a virtual meeting Friday, the Charter School Board received a presentation on discipline data, which is collected by the Nevada Department of Education. Analysts found that state charter schools have a lower rate of incidents resulting in suspensions than the state overall.

For the 2019-2020 school year, state charter schools reported 0.90 incidents resulting in suspension per 100 students. The statewide rate was 3.44 incidents per 100 students.

Within charter schools, Black students, male students and students with disabilities were more likely to be involved in those incidents. Their respective rates were: 2.08, 1.33 and 1.17.

The majority of suspensions incidents were related to violence against other students.

However, there are two important caveats to all of these numbers: Discipline definitions and practices can be different across the state, meaning the data may not be comparable district to district, or even school to school. Also, one student may be included in the data set as two or more ‘incidents’ depending on the nature of their suspension. (For example, possession of a weapon and violence to students could be two concurrent incidents reported multiple times if the student calls into multiple subgroups).

The Charter School Authority analysts presenting the discipline data emphasized that because of those caveats it is difficult to summarize or draw too many conclusions from the data.

“We want to be careful how much we lean on the state comparison because there are some inconsistencies on how these definitions are used,” said Rebecca Feiden, executive director of the charter school authority. “But we do think there is certainly some information that can shed some light on the educational experience of our students.”

Feiden says the data may be particularly useful when comparing charter school to charter school, or in the future when aggregated data can be looked at over time. Analysts from the charter school authority said they had not yet compiled school-by-school comparisons.

The discipline data by subgroup is new information for the charter school authority. It stems from new reporting requirements for public schools passed by the 2019 Legislature.

The statewide discipline data presented to a Nevada Board of Education workgroup in September showed inequities. Black students make up 11.4 percent of enrollment statewide but 38.7 percent of expulsions and 31 percent of suspensions. Students with individualized education plans make up 12.7 percent of enrollment statewide but 19.6 percent of expulsions and 20.8 percent of suspensions.

Males make up 51 percent of enrollment but 72 percent of expulsions.

A state analyst told Board of Education members then that next year’s data set is expected to be more nuanced because definitions have been better defined.

Imperfect as it may be, the data still offers an entry point into an equity issue that has long plagued the education world both nationally and in Nevada. Within Clark County School District, Black students accounted for 43 percent of police referrals while representing 14 percent of total students.

The charter school authority does not have a dedicated police force like CCSD. Safety practices and procedures fall to individual schools.

Larger discussion on equity

Charter schools in Nevada and across the nation have faced harsh criticisms for being non-inclusive. State enrollment data lends some credence to that argument, with the Current finding that most charters in Southern Nevada have less ethnic and socioeconomic diversity than both their surrounding schools and CCSD as a whole.

Earlier this year, the charter school authority drafted an equity to-do list intended to better support its stated mission of providing educational options to all students. Those efforts include revising their application to ask specifically about disproportionate disciplinary practices and opportunity gaps, as well as making the equity data more accessible to the public.

The charter school board has also received presentations from three different schools about how they are addressing equity and systemic racism. All three schools have been schools serving high populations of historically underserved populations.

Board member Mallory Cyr on Friday praised those presentations but said that she hoped additional schools with less diverse student populations would also come before the board.

She added, “This is their work too.”

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April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus

April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, three children and one mutt.

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