No one likes to admit failure or a lack of progress, particularly when it comes to our public education system. However, to admit a lack of real progress — particularly when there hasn’t really been a sufficient amount of it, and when that lack of progress involves issues affecting Kentucky’s most at-risk students — often results in a false sense of achievement and a lack of urgency that can hinder badly needed reforms.
For instance, in his State of the Commonwealth Speech earlier this year, Gov. Steve Beshear claimed that Kentucky had big steps forward in improving its education system.
“Many years ago, Kentucky’s national story when it came to education was cause for embarrassment. Scores were low, and on most measures we lagged far behind,” Beshear told lawmakers. “But thanks to decades of hard work and aggressive policy changes, Kentucky has carved out a new reputation as a reform-minded state that is innovative, bold and determined.”
Good words. But it’s hard to see that “new reputation as a reform-minded state that is innovative, bold and determined” shining through the latest information assembled by staff education analyst Richard Innes regarding academic achievement gaps between black and white students from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the Nation’s Report Card. While Dick shared these graphs in another recent blog, they are worth including once again in the discussion reshowing due to the governor’s fantastical claims:
The math proficiency gap between Kentucky’s black and white eighth-graders is more than twice as large as it was when the NAEP first began testing in this subject in 1990; notice that the scores of black students have remained largely flat since 2007:
*The reading-proficiency gap between Kentucky’s black and white fourth-graders widened by a whopping 8 percent since the NAEP started testing in this subject in 1992; notice, also, how the black students’ scores have remained flat since 2003:
Finally, while the state’s new testing system — the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress — hasn’t been around long enough to develop credible trend lines, even its latest results show that after nearly a quarter-century since the Kentucky Education Reform Act became the commonwealth’s education policy, white-minus-black achievement gaps continue to be seriously severe in every academic area.
“In most subjects, black proficiency rates are only around half the rates for whites; in some cases, the gaps are even worse,” Innes said. “At the high school level, black proficiency rates indicate only about one in three students of color is on track, at best.”
In high school science, fewer than one in five black high school students are performing well, he notes.
It’s hard to see how that with (a) widening achievement gaps and (b) no allowance for public charter schools, which are proving effective in closing those gaps in many school districts found in the 42 states and the District of Columbia that offer parents the option of charters, how Kentucky, as the governor reported, “has carved out a new reputation as a reform-minded state that is innovative, bold and determined.”