The Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science is a special Kentucky public high school operating on the campus of Western Kentucky University (WKU). It allows really superior high school age students to take college-level courses at WKU.
Gatton is a selective school of choice, nominally open to all Kentucky students; however, actually getting in is highly competitive. Applying high school sophomores must jump though a lot of hoops, including taking the ACT college entrance test. For this year’s crop of students, the Lane Report says:
“The selected students scored an average composite of 30.51 on the ACT and 29.88 on the mathematics portion of the exam.”
Those are really high scores for this 36-point test.
The Lane Report also says that this year’s Gatton selectees come from 50 difference counties in Kentucky and 100 students total were selected.
All of this sounds really great, especially considering Gatton’s outstanding national reputation as a superior public high school. But, there is a catch.
A notable, perhaps excessive, proportion of those 100 students came from just one county, WKU’s own Warren County.
Out of a total of only 100 students selected statewide, the Lane Report shows that 12 came from Warren County. Four students came from the Bowling Green High School alone. Another eight students came from several Warren County School District high schools.
Let’s put this in perspective.
The “Learning Environment” sections of the Kentucky School Report Cards for the two school districts in Warren County show that for 2014-15 the total tenth grade enrollment was only 1,458 students. Statewide, the 2014-15 tenth grade enrollment was 49,397 students. So, despite the fact that only 2.95 percent of the state’s total enrollment of tenth graders is found in the Warren, schools from that one district provided a whopping 12 percent of the entire Gatton Class that will graduate in 2018.
For comparison, Kentucky’s second largest county-wide school system, the Fayette County School District, only had four students admitted to Gatton although its tenth grade enrollment for 2014-15 was 2,769 students, nearly twice as large at Warren County’s enrollment for this grade.
Another county-wide system, the Boone County Public School District in Northern Kentucky, had 1,457 tenth graders in 2014-15, virtually equal to the Warren County figure. But, only five Boone County students will go to Gatton next year. The Boone County School District, by the way, is a very high performing school system, ranking at least equal to the Warren County School District. It doesn’t seem likely that Boone would produce far fewer eligible students.
Even Kentucky’s enormous Jefferson County Public School District in Louisville is sending just 8 students to Gatton next year. That could be problematic when Jefferson County enrolls about 15-percent of all the public school students in the state even though Jefferson County overall is a relatively low performing system.
By the way, several students attending Jefferson County’s elite magnet high school, DuPont Manual High, elected to go to Gatton, instead. That says an awful lot about the desirability of attending Gatton!
To be sure, there might be some very good reasons why students who attend schools in Warren County snagged such a disproportionate share of the overall Gatton slots. For one thing, Gatton is a residence school, and some highly talented high school age kids in other areas of Kentucky might not want to live far away from home.
Also, to be very clear, I like the Gatton concept, but I want to be sure the playing field for admissions to this Kentucky taxpayer funded school is level for all Kentucky students. To that end, the disparity in admissions by county for Gatton’s Class of 2018 seems large enough that legislators from other parts of Kentucky need to ask some questions.