The nation takes time today to honor one of our country’s most active civil rights leaders, and we think it is important to note that one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s most important efforts involved his desire that all children — no matter their race or socioeconomic backgrounds — could have access to a great education.
Among his many writings and speeches, King expressed his dream in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway, in 1964, saying:
“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.”
It is now just one year short of half a century since Dr. King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, but the evidence shows his dream for education remains unfulfilled both across the United States and here in Kentucky, as well. The Bluegrass Institute has cited this compelling evidence on many occasions.
One of our more important gap examples is our “Blacks Falling Through Gaps” report series on the continuing achievement gap problems in Louisville’s schools. The latest report in that series, “Blacks Continue Falling Through Gaps in Louisville’s Schools, The 2016 Update,” was released in February 2016 and shows how black students in Kentucky’s largest city continue to be left behind in important areas like high school graduation and mathematics proficiency.
The report also raises strong questions about the value of busing to achieve educational success.
The Bluegrass Institute also provided much more information about Kentucky’s racial achievement gaps in a large series of blogs. These make it clear that Louisville has no copyright on white minus black achievement gap problems.
For example, one of our most recent blogs looks at academic performance in the Elizabethtown Independent School District. This is one of the state’s more upscale school systems with a free and reduced cost school lunch eligibility rate 7.5 percent lower than the statewide average and with per-pupil funding nearly $500 higher than statewide. Still, as we showed in this blog, Elizabethtown has white minus black achievement gaps larger than the statewide averages across almost all school levels in both reading and math.
The Institute also provided a series of examples that busing for integration in Louisville provides no guarantee that gaps will ever be reduced. In addition to discussions about busing in the “Blacks Falling Through Gaps” series, we recently posted yet another blog that shows busing blacks way across town to supposedly upscale schools in the East End of Jefferson County does not result in better performance.
The Institute isn’t interested in just pointing out problems, however. Like Dr. King, we aspire to solutions that will really help us realize his dream. So, we actively support charter schools for Kentucky because these public schools of choice are showing especially good results with minority students.
We are also interested in reining in Louisville’s extremely expensive and unsuccessful school bus program, believing other options could use the massive amount of money spent on busing more effectively. Thus, we are excited about proposals to move Kentucky to better models for student attendance such as Rep. Kevin Bratcher’s House Bill 151, which allows kids to attend schools closer to home.
On this special day, we continue to share Dr. King’s optimism that we can realize his dream. It is taking too long, and there have been too many expensive missteps, but better times and programs are coming, including right here in Kentucky. That cannot help but bless our kids with the educational advances King so earnestly sought.