The Louisville Courier-Journal is spreading ink and electrons again regarding supposed uneven racial demographics in the Jefferson County Public Schools. This despite the fact that USA Today reports that Louisville has a better racial mix in its schools than other areas of the country.
The unfortunate truth is that a better racial mix in schools isn’t solving the more important problem: the racial achievement gap. Louisville is a poster child for that reality.
The Bluegrass Institute examined white-minus-black achievement gaps in JCPS in several reports, the latest being our “Blacks Still Falling Through Gaps, the 2012 Update.”
Our reports show that contrary to conventional wisdom, the largest achievement gaps are found in schools in the East Side of Jefferson County.
Blacks are bused to those schools to make demographic statistics look better, but something tragic happens once they are inside the school door. The better education the white students receive somehow does not happen for blacks.
Perhaps it’s segregation at the classroom level, maybe something else. But busing, which Louisville now has done for more than four decades, clearly isn’t fixing the problem. In some cases Louisville’s blacks might have been better off if they had stayed in West Side schools.
There has been inadequate official attention to this problem.
As we reported late in 2013, Kentucky’s Unbridled Learning system currently does a very poor job of identifying and dealing with racial achievement-gap issues. You can’t fix hidden problems.
For example, as we point out in “Blacks Still Falling Through Gaps,” Unbridled Learning actually awarded high ratings in 2012 to Norton and Brandeis elementary schools despite the fact that both posted incredibly large white-minus-black math proficiency rate gaps of more than 51 percentage points that year. Nevertheless, the Unbridled Learning system recognized each of these schools as a “School of Distinction.”
To be sure, Norton and Brandeis did a much better than average job teaching math to their white students in 2012, but for bused-in blacks, such benefits didn’t follow. It’s an old problem, and it isn’t getting better in the district’s slow-to-change system.
What could help would be real alternative choices for parents like charter schools. States with strong charter-school programs are showing good progress in lifting minority student performance. And this often happens at lower costs to taxpayers, as well.
It’s time for Louisville to stop chasing decades-old, failed ideas about fixing performance gaps with buses and move on to something that shows more promise for minority students where it really counts – better performance.
Burn less diesel. Cut down on traffic in Louisville. Open up real choices to parents. That is the way to go.