In response to a question from the audience at Wednesday’s Louisville Forum evaluating the Jefferson County Public Schools’ busing policy over the last 40 years, Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters noted that classrooms in schools of choice across the nation often are more diverse than even traditional public-school classrooms in the same districts.
“Parents believe in diversity,” but they also want to ensure that their children receive a good education, Waters told the audience in response to a question concerning how can we achieve both racial diversity and strong academic performance.
For more, click here to read the Louisville Courier-Journal’s coverage of the Forum, which included Teddy Gordon, the winning Louisville attorney in a U.S. Supreme Court case striking down JCPS’s former busing plan, which was based strictly on meeting racial quotas in schools, as unconstitutional; former JCPS board member Debbie Wesslund and Louisville NAACP president Raoul Cunningham.
Following are Waters’ prepared opening comments at the Forum:
In the Bluegrass Institute’s report entitled Blacks (Still) Falling Through Gaps, we found that the vast majority of Jefferson County’s 133 schools have proficiency-rate gaps between black and white students of at least 10 percentage points. This described the situation of 106 schools in reading and 115 schools in math.
Digging a bit deeper, we discovered that around half of the schools have larger gaps exceeding 20 percentage points while some schools have gaps as large as 50 percentage points.
Yet contrary to conventional perception, schools with the some of the largest black-versus-white math-achievement gaps are found not in the city’s west end but in the upscale east end.
For instance, the gap in math performance between black and white students at Dunn Elementary exceeds 55 percentage points. In fact, black students in some eastside schools like Dunn actually have much-lower proficiency rates than their black peers in west-side schools. Dunn’s black students scored only 39 percent proficient in math while in west-end schools like Young and Atkinson elementary, blacks scored much higher at 51 percent and 59 percent respectively.
Does this unbiased data not suggest that a significant number of black students could be better served in a local neighborhood school?
Does busing kids a long way from home enhance their ability to learn and achieve?
Unending reports of serious student misbehavior fights and accidents on buses add still more evidence that those long rides are counterproductive. It was recently reported that even offering bonuses failed to entice enough highly experienced drivers to take on the district’s troubled routes.
After the Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the Jefferson County Public Schools’ busing policy designed to achieve a certain racial balance in schools was unconstitutional, the district continued to bus on the stated goal of achieving socioeconomic integration.
Yet 97 percent of the students at Frayser Elementary school were eligible for the free-or-reduced-lunch program and 75 percent are non-white.
More than 90 percent of students at Hazelwood, Cane Run, Cochran and Roosevelt-Perry also are eligible for free-or-reduced-lunch benefits. Meanwhile less than 30 percent of students at Stopher, Norton, Dunn and Greathouse/Shyrock elementary schools are eligible for free-and-reduced-price lunches.
Again – the stated goals of socioeconomic balance seem nowhere close to being achieved.
Ten percent of the more-than-$13,000 we are spending to educate each student in Jefferson County goes simply for transportation. That adds up to be $100 million annually.
Meanwhile … an audit by our state auditor indicates that 94 percent of teachers in the Jefferson County district dip into their own money to purchase classroom items.
Considering the widening achievement gap and lack of resources, wouldn’t common sense dictate that at least a significant portion of the tens of millions of dollars spent just on busing each year be better spent ensuring that students in the classroom get the instruction and supplies they need rather than forcing some type of quota or social experiment on our school system?
Despite the well-intentioned attempts of this district’s past and present administrators, the evidence strongly suggests that not only has the busing policy failed to truly integrate our schools – where all students of any color or socioeconomic background receive a good education – but it perhaps even unwittingly has contributed to those very practices and outcomes that we all find objectionable.
Offering charter schools in neighborhoods would allow a single mother working two or three jobs just to put food on the table and keep the lights on to at least have a chance of being more involved in her child’s education – unlike when her child is bused across the city.
I note that about 58 percent of all the children in the 6,600 public charter schools across the nation are from low-income minority homes.
Charter are public schools of choice, which are having a lot of success in achieving what the leaders of Kentucky’s – and Jefferson County’s – education systems only dream about achieving. They are closing the achievement gap between black and white students in the inner cities of America – in Houston, in Los Angeles, in Chicago, in Washington, D.C., in the Bronx and most especially in New Orleans, where the post-Katrina school system was largely rebuilt as a charter system.
If we’re serious about fulfilling the promises of Brown v Board of Education and KERA – the Kentucky Education Reform Act, we will be open to giving parents the opportunity to choose a better education for their children – a policy that has succeeded in doing what we say we want done: ensuring a better education for all children.