Las Vegas Sun

September 25, 2016

Currently: 80° — Complete forecast

EDUCATION:

Top-rated schools found in wealthier areas, but School District vows change coming

Neighborhoods with median home values exceeding $128,000 guaranteed to have three-star or higher elementary, middle schools


Interactive Map: Each dot represents a Las Vegas elementary or middle school. The darker the dot, the higher its school ranking. Each polygon represents a ZIP code in Las Vegas. The darker the shape, the higher the area's median home price (4Q 2011). Click on each element to see how many stars a school has, or how much the median home values are in a neighborhood.

Ranking schools

    The Clark County School District has a new school-ranking system – the School Performance Framework — for its 217 elementary and 59 middle schools. Schools are assigned a numerical score based on a number of categories including academic performance, student growth and engagement.
  • Five stars for highest-performing schools
  • Four stars for well performing
  • Three stars for schools that are meeting but not exceeding academic standards
  • Two stars for schools close to meeting minimum standards
  • One star for low-performing schools

Sun editorial

Read the Sun's editorial on the new school ranking system "A five-star system."

Looking to purchase a home in Las Vegas and wondering what neighborhoods have the best schools?

No big surprise: The more affluent neighborhoods are generally more likely to have the best schools in the valley, according to a Las Vegas Sun analysis of Clark County school ranking data released last month.

If you buy a house in the most affluent neighborhoods in the valley — the top quarter of ZIP codes where the median home price exceeds $132,250 — you’ll have nearly eight times the odds of having a four- or five-star school in your area than the poorest neighborhoods in the valley — the bottom quarter of ZIP codes with median home values under $68,106.

Further, if you’re among the half million Las Vegans living in a ZIP code where the median home price exceeds $128,000, you are guaranteed to have at least a three-star or higher elementary or middle school in your neighborhood.

“We have long argued that there is a strong association between neighborhood-level socioeconomic status and academic performance,” said UNLV assistant sociology professor Shannon Monnat, who has studied societal inequality for more than a decade. “As housing values increase, the number of stars increases as well.”

The Clark County School District became the first district in Nevada to institute a school ranking system in late February when it launched its “School Performance Framework.” The framework ranks Las Vegas elementary and middle schools on a one- to five-star scale, with the highest performing five-star schools showing the most academic growth and proficiency. (High school rankings are expected to be released next month.)

Although there are a few four- and five-star schools in poorer neighborhoods — schools such as five-star Hewetson Elementary — the county’s highest-performing schools are less prevalent in these areas than in more affluent neighborhoods.

The median home price for the entire Las Vegas Valley is $107,000, meaning half of the homes cost more than that, the other half less.

Of the 170 elementary and middle schools in ZIP codes where the median home price is less than the valley median, just 18 percent are four- or five-star schools.

In contrast, there are 108 elementary and middle schools in ZIP codes where the median home value exceeds $107,000. Nearly half – 46 percent – of those schools are four- and five-star schools.

A caveat: School attendance zones don’t match up with ZIP codes. The Sun used ZIP codes because there are no data for median home prices for attendance zones. Students also have a form of school choice with open enrollment programs, magnet and charter school options, but most Las Vegas children attend their neighborhood schools.

Nevertheless the lack of access to high-quality schools for families living in poorer neighborhoods concerns Ken Turner, special assistant to Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones. Turner was the lead architect behind Clark County’s school rankings, which were modeled after a similar ranking system Turner and Jones developed in Colorado.

The lack of access to the highest quality schools among the poorest families in Las Vegas is troubling, he said, because these students are the ones who need the best schools in order to escape from a life of poverty.

“All kids should benefit, but those who have been traditionally underserved should benefit more,” he said, adding that they are now asking in light of this data, “How can we help kids who are underserved?”

•••

The majority of the School District’s top five-star schools are in the wealthier, outer suburbs of Las Vegas, in neighborhoods such as Summerlin and Green Valley. Fewer five-star schools are in the older, urban core of the valley.

Many of these older, urban schools were once high-performing, many of their graduates going on to become doctors, lawyers and business executives. However, the development of suburbs since the late 1980s has pulled wealthier families toward the outer edges of the valley.

Newer schools were built in these suburbs to address Las Vegas’ massive population growth. These suburban schools attracted more affluent families with the resources and time to help their students succeed in school, and the schools quickly became some of the highest-performing in the district.

As wealthier families moved outward, poorer families moved into the urban core. These older schools gradually became some of the district’s worst-performing.

The disparity between some of the oldest and newest schools is stark.

Bonner Elementary School in Summerlin is the district’s highest-ranked elementary school. That’s why School District officials chose the school to unveil its new ranking system last month.

Bonner students study on a campus a little more than a decade old. Many go home to supportive families; 95 percent of Bonner parents are engaged with the school, according to the school’s accountability report.

On the other hand, J.D. Smith is the oldest middle school in Clark County. It’s in one of the poorest neighborhoods with a median home price of $38,000. Not surprisingly, the North Las Vegas school’s ranking is two stars, Monnat said.

Students at Smith work in classrooms with leaky roofs and failing heating and air-conditioning units. Most go home to families facing unemployment, even homelessness.

“This makes it harder for these children to concentrate on school work,” Monnat said. “Combine that with fewer technological resources and outdated classroom equipment, and you can see how these schools are at a real disadvantage.”

Monnat commends the four- and five-star schools in poorer neighborhoods for their high performance despite their odds. She would like to see the School District weigh academic gains made at schools in lower-income neighborhoods higher than schools in higher-income neighborhoods.

•••

Systemic inequality is difficult to overcome, but this new data is “clarion call” for change, Turner said. Under Jones’ administration, Turner said the hope is to mitigate these inequities between the haves and have-nots.

“This data tells you everything about the past but nothing about the future,” Turner said. “This picture doesn’t really dictate that’s the way we’ll always be.”

One of the School District’s guiding principles is to allocate resources based on need. The school ranking system was the first step toward determining which schools needed the most resources, Turner said.

“(Change) starts with insight,” he said. “We want to see where things are working and flow resources to needs... What we’d like to see is every child willing to work hard feel entitled to success after high school.”

The new rankings will not be used as a punitive measure or a “sorting hat” but a “support system” for low-performing schools, Turner said. Two- and one-star schools will be given priority for new teacher hires and receive additional professional development to help teachers engage better with students, he said.

There is also a greater push to attract and retain high-quality teachers at some of the worst-performing schools in the district, Turner said. The School District worked with the teachers union to negotiate incentives — protected job status and signing bonuses — to entice effective teachers to the five “turnaround” schools.

Further, the School District hopes to expand its online course offerings so that factors such as the median home price of one’s neighborhood are no longer barriers to a quality education, Turner said. By 2015, he hopes to see more than 100,000 students taking virtual classes.

“We can use technology to leverage and enhance the education of young people,” Turner said. “That’s why we’re trying to put that on steroids.

“This is a wonderful time to see what we can do,” he continued. “If we’re headed in a new direction where we’re building capacity (of teachers and students), that’s a good thing.”

•••

But going back to our question earlier: What neighborhoods have the best schools in the valley?

Two neighborhoods – in Henderson and Spring Valley – each have three five-star schools, the most of any area in the Las Vegas Valley.

Henderson ZIP code 89012 has five-star elementary schools — Lamping, Twitchell and Vanderberg. The median home price in this neighborhood is $160,000.

The cheaper alternative is southwest Valley ZIP code 89147, which has five-star elementary schools Bendorf, Hayes and Roger Bryan. The median home price in this neighborhood is $115,000.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy