As Kentuckians have homage today to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at many events throughout the commonwealth on what would have been the 89th birthday of the civil rights pioneer, it’s important to remember what’s been accomplished as well as that which remains undone and, perhaps most importantly, what’s possible when it comes to ensuring that every Kentuckian — no matter race, socioeconomic background or zip code — has the opportunity to strive for the individual liberty and pursuit of happiness enshrined in our nation’s founding.
I recently had the opportunity to stop by Ebenezer Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta where Dr. King co-pastored with his father “Daddy” King for many years and where his son was eulogized following his assassination in 1968 and reflect not only on the challenges that remain in our nation to achieving Dr. King’s dream but also on the significant progress made toward achieving true equality of opportunity.
It would be difficult for even the most-hardened race baiters to deny that Dr. King’s dream that “one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls” is more a reality now than ever before. There was a time, after all, when the President of the United States had to send in federal troops to ensure our public schools would no longer be segregated. That, fortunately, is no longer the case.
Now just as unfortunately, a different kind of segregation exists in our public-school classrooms.
Tragically, the situation continues to worsen rather than improve.
Some say Kentucky’s schools can’t overcome these types of achievement gaps. However, we have examples of schools with very low gaps in the white minus black math proficiency rates despite poverty rates well above state average. For example, Wilt and Crofton elementary schools in Jefferson and Christian counties, respectively, have math proficiency rate gaps of less than one percentage point and school lunch eligibility rates nearly eight points above the state average.
Yet while these schools demonstrate it’s possible to close or even eliminate achievement gaps, that isn’t the trend in Kentucky:
- In KPREP Algebra II End-of-Course testing, the white minus black proficiency rate gap jumped up notably from 16.8 percentage points in 2016 to 23 percentage points in 2017.
- In KPREP middle school reading, the white minus black proficiency rate gap of 28.3 percentage points in 2017 was the largest gap ever posted for this subject and school level since KPREP started in 2012.
- The gap picture for KPREP elementary school reading mirrored the middle school results. Kentucky’s elementary school white minus black reading achievement gap in 2017 was the largest ever recorded for KPREP.
- In Kentucky’s 11th grade ACT testing, the math score gap between white and blacks in 2017 is exactly the same as it was in every previous year from 2013 on except for 2015. The gap isn’t getting better.
Sadly, many individuals and organizations who claim to carry King’s mantle in the civil rights movement either ignore or dismiss the story of educational inequality told by these numbers.
One of the primary reasons the Bluegrass Institute continues to advocate giving parents choices concerning where their children receive are educated is because no child should be trapped in a failing school simply because their family is poor or can’t write a big tuition check. Too much evidence now exists showing that while school-choice programs, including charter schools, scholarship tax credits and Education Savings Accounts, may not save every poor black child, it’s creating life-changing opportunities for millions of American children who otherwise would fall through the cracks and wind up on welfare, the street corner, prison or the morgue.
We’ll continue to promote school-choice policies built on the idea that parents, not bureaucrats, politicians or administrators, know what’s best for their children, and that families deserve options so Kentucky’s kids — especially those that already have two strikes against them in life — have a chance.
Don’t tell me Dr. King wouldn’t have agreed.
“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.”
…and so do we…