The following are taken from prepared comments offered by Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters, who spoke this morning at the Third Annual Education Freedom Day Breakfast for the Village Learning and Development Center at the Midwest Church of Christ in inner-city Louisville.
It’s great to be here this morning. These annual events always leave us inspired to do all we can to advance the cause of education reform in our great commonwealth, including providing education options like public charter schools for children.
Considering that children in the Village Learning and Development Center are, on average, two to four years behind grade level when they enroll. The staff and volunteers here are dedicated to leaving no child behind. This means there are more than 100 children in Louisville’s West End whose lives are behind changed each year just because of what we’re recognizing and celebrating here today.
In our efforts to bring public charter schools to Kentucky, we’re often faced with the claim by opponents that parental school choice isn’t some kind of magic pill or silver bullet that will solve all educational woes for the multitude of children trapped in failing schools and without hope of a better future.
That is true. No policy, program or project will save every child.
Does that mean, however, that we shouldn’t do what we can and take advantage of the opportunities that are available to us to help and support efforts like the Village Learning and Development Center, which has tremendously impacted the lives of hundreds of children through these years?
We can’t save every child trapped in failing schools and headed for a lifetime of poverty and failure.
But does that mean we shouldn’t do all that we can to save some?
In the Bluegrass Institute’s recent report entitled Blacks Continue Falling Through the Gaps: The 2016 Update, Bluegrass Institute staff education analyst Richard Innes not only reveals how the achievement gaps widen between black and white students in the Jefferson County Public Schools between the 2011-12 and 2014-15 school years on both the ACT’s EXPLORE test for eighth-grade students and PLAN test for tenth-graders in the key academic areas of English, reading, math and science, but how that in most of those areas there were steep declines in the scores of JCPS black students on both the eighth-grade EXPLORE and tenth-grade PLAN tests.
The scores of white students also declined in most of those subjects during the same time period.
The report also finds that the achievement gap between black and white students in JCPS in 2015 exceeded 10 percentage points in 116 out of total of 134 schools, including at Dunn Elementary and Noe Middle schools, where data released by the Kentucky Department of Education reveals that the academic-achievement gaps exceed an astonishing 50 percentage points.
And if the gaps that exist in West End schools are dire, they are even more calamitous in schools in the more-affluent areas east of Interstate 65, where the largest disparities in academic achievement between blacks and whites in JCPS exist. This would seem to defy the long-held perception that schools east of I-65 are performing at a much-higher level than those in the West End. The evidence says otherwise.
This means that a black student can live near Portland Elementary – a school labeled as “needs improvement,” be bused to Dunn Elementary School, where the fact that blacks have an even-lower proficiency rate than at Portland will receive little notice because Dunn was labeled a “Distinguished” school last year. This despite the fact that Dunn had huge gaps, a math-proficiency rate of only 24 percent among its black students and ranked No. 67 out of 89 schools last year.
Quoting directly from the report: “Incredibly, if a black student were to live near Portland but went to Dunn instead, that student would ride a bus to school that might, on average, be offering less chance of academic success.”
The report also provides strong evidence that an extreme and unbalanced amount of social promotion to a high-school diploma is occurring in JCPS high schools, which results in a number of Louisville high schools officially reporting notably higher graduation rates for blacks than whites. This misleads many of those black students into thinking they have been adequately prepared for college or the workforce.
This becomes clear when you take the officially published graduation rates published by JCPS and compare them with Bluegrass Institute’s Effective Graduation Rate, which factors in the state-provided college and career-ready rates. When we did that, it’s bad enough that we found a 20-point difference in white students’ reported rate versus those who actually are adequately prepared for the future, but it’s absolutely devastating for black students’ performance, for which we discovered more than a 42-point gap; that gap is between what JCPS said compared to the reality of the numbers of graduates who actually – really – are prepared for the future.
The evidence suggests that many black high-school graduates in Jefferson County walk across the stage each spring only to receive a hollow piece of paper. And, as Dr. Abigail Thernstrom, a former member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and author of No Excuses: Closing the Gap, stated:
“A worthless diploma means you are going to have a worthless income down the road. And, if you don’t have skills and knowledge, you are not going to do well in the American economy. You are not going to be able to climb that ‘ladder of opportunity’ which is very real – regardless of what the color of your skin is today in America.”
Perhaps the worst part of all of this is that parents, children, families and taxpayers still don’t know what the JCPS district’s plan is for closing these unacceptable gaps and ensuring that the promise of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990, which remains the commonwealth’s education policy, is kept: that all children, no matter their geographic location or station in life, can achieve and succeed at the highest levels.
All of this from a school district that just approved a $1.4 billion budget for this year, and in a state that spends 60 cents of every dollar on education (K-12 and higher ed.) in the new budget.
Which speaks volumes about the work being done here in these After School and Summer Day Camp ministries of the Village Learning and Development Center, which not only is changing the futures and very lives of the wonderful children that come through its doors each day, but is doing so without government funding so that they can be free to do so while incorporating the teaching of Christian principles and values into their approach.
Pastor Jerry Stephenson and the staff and volunteers who give of their time, talent and energy each day are not sitting around wringing their hands and talking about why the futures of these children cannot be changed. That’s because they are too busy already changing those futures – one child at a time, one day at a time, one year at a time and one lifetime at a time.