We’ve written plenty about the white minus black education gaps in the Jefferson County Public Schools system (JCPS), but there are some other major gaps present in the Louisville area, as well, and we recently got a request to explore the poverty gaps by race. Thanks to the really handy NAEP Data Explorer web tool, it is actually possible to break out math and reading test scores by race and eligibility for the federal school lunch program. Table 1 below does that for you for the 2017 NAEP administration in JCPS.
First, here is a little about how Table 1 is organized.
The upper left portion, shaded in light green, presents the actual percentages of white and black students in JCPS who tested Proficient or above on the various NAEP subjects and grades tested. These scores are broken out according to whether or not the students qualified for the school lunch program.
For example, in Grade 4 NAEP Reading, 38 percent of the white students who qualified for school lunch tested proficient while 64 percent of the wealthier whites in JCPS who didn’t qualify for the lunch program tested proficient. Meanwhile, among black fourth graders, only 13 percent of those eligible for school lunches tested proficient while 33 percent to wealthy to get into the federal lunch program scored proficient.
Moving outside the green area of the NAEP Grade 4 Reading results, the yellow-shaded area below shows that the white minus black achievement gap for students who qualified for school lunches was 25 percent while the white minus black achievement gap for those to wealthy to qualify was 31 percent.
Finally, looking at the other yellow-shaded area to the right of the green proficiency rate section, the gap for whites who qualified for lunch versus whites who didn’t qualify was 26 percentage points while the gap for poor versus richer black students was 20 percent.
With the table explained, it is clear from the “Not Lunch Eligible Vs. Lunch Eligible Gaps, by Race” entries that there are notable gaps between rich and poor students even when we break things out by race, but the gaps are much larger when we consider rich versus poor whites as opposed to rich versus poor black students.
Also, the disparity between poor blacks and wealthy whites are sometimes really enormous. Consider NAEP Grade 4 math, where poor black students were only 11 percent proficient while wealthier whites were 71 percent proficient. That is a gap of 60 percentage points!
For sure, the poor black proficiency rates in Jefferson County are an embarrassment across the board, with the worst case found in Grade 8 NAEP Math where only six percent of the JCPS lunch-eligible blacks met NAEP muster. The results for poor blacks in the other NAEP areas are not much better.
Those low poor black scores in JCPS are a problem for another reason, which we explore in Table 2.
Table 2 provides evidence that the black population in JCPS tends to be much lower income than the white population.
For example, in the fourth grade whites are almost evenly divided between those that do and don’t qualify for school lunch, with 51 percent qualifying and 48 not (there are some round off errors in the NAEP data).
In sharp contrast, 83 percent of the JCPS black students, more than four out of five, qualify for school lunches.
So, having much lower scores for lunch eligible students impacts the overall black performance more than the white performance, making efforts to reduce the achievement gaps even more imperative.
Tech Note: School lunch data in recent NAEP administrations is generally an unstable indicator of poverty due to the introduction of the Community Eligibility Program (CEP). Under the CEP, if as little as 40 percent of a school’s population truly is poor enough to meet normal eligibility criteria, then the entire school’s population can be enrolled in the lunch program, including the wealthiest kids in the school. Due to a paperwork reduction feature in the CEP, the data on eligibility based on the old standards isn’t even being collected anymore.
Kentucky, however, is a CEP exception. While a number of the state’s schools are now in the CEP, the state still requires collection of the old school lunch eligibility data because this is needed for operation of the state’s public school financing formula, known as SEEK. Thus, Kentucky, unlike the general case, continues to report actual, needs-based lunch qualification data to NAEP.
Thanks to the CEP, if you are interested in how Kentucky ranks for poverty against other states, you have to look elsewhere than the lunch data. We did that for you in this blog.