As Leon Mooneyhan points out in his Courier-Journal op-ed, Kentucky’s long-term struggles with education reform are now a quarter of a century old.
Imagine that – a full quarter-century.
So you would think that, by now, more than an adequate amount of time has passed for some of the remarkable things Mooneyhan claims happened to have actually occurred. Unfortunately, that isn’t the reality.
I’m a data guy. So when Mooneyhan writes, “We are taking a laser-like focus on data…to close achievement gaps,” I pay attention.
Clearly, his laser must be malfunctioning.
Back in 1992, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) said Kentucky’s fourth-grade white students scored 214 on the reading assessment while the state’s blacks only scored 196 – a gap of 18 points.
In the latest 2013 NAEP fourth grade reading test, Kentucky’s whites scored 227, but the state’s blacks only got a 204 – a gap of 23 points and a notable increase from the early KERA-era scores.
Also, fourth-grade NAEP math scores show Kentucky’s white-minus-black score gap increased by 3 points between 1992 and 2013. No improvement was posted in grade 8 math results, either. The white-minus-black score gap remained flat at 23 points between 1992 and 2013.
Furthermore, while Kentucky’s scores did improve on NAEP between 1992 and 2013, so did the scores for other states.
As a result, Kentucky’s white fourth-graders back in 1992 didn’t score statistically significantly higher in math than whites in any other state. By 2013, our fourth-grade whites could only claim bragging rights over one state – West Virginia – once the statistical sampling error in the NAEP was properly considered.
That’s not much progress for a quarter-century effort.
In 2013, our eighth-grade whites still only bested one state in math – that’s all. And, Kentucky’s blacks didn’t fare much better. In 1992, they statistically significantly outscored their counterparts in only three other states. In 2013, they bested blacks in only four other states.
Kentucky’s blacks suffered a much-worse decline in NAEP’s fourth-grade math results. In 1992, our blacks bested counterparts in 11 other states. By 2013, our blacks only bested those in three other states.
With NAEP reporting some depressingly low proficiency rates across the board, it’s clear that education reform is, at best, far – far – from done in the Bluegrass State.
In 2013, only 33 percent of Kentucky’s white students were proficient in eight-grade math while for blacks the proficiency rate was far lower at just 11 percent. Surely Mr. Mooneyhan isn’t going to claim much progress for our kids of color when their most-current proficiency rate is scarcely more than one in 10 students.
Given these facts, you can understand why I’m a little concerned by Mooneyhan’s closing comments that “…since 1989 when Kentucky decided to become educated, public schools have proven we’re good on our word.”
The jury is very much still out on that promise.
However, I do agree with his point that: “An educated workforce is essential to Kentucky’s economic growth and prosperity. An uneducated state is a state without a future.”
The problem is, with a quarter-century of seriously increased spending on education, Kentucky is not becoming educated nearly fast enough to keep up with the competition.
Time – along with our scarce tax dollars – is running out.
Richard G. Innes is staff education analyst for the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free market think tank. Contact him at email@example.com.
(Minor technical updates added May 12, 2014)