Report: JCPS schools with largest racial-academic gaps found east of I-65

(LOUISVILLE, Ky.) – A new Bluegrass Institute policy brief showing academic segregation still exists in Jefferson County Public Schools was released at a news conference today in a crime-ridden area of Kentucky’s largest city.

The Bluegrass Institute joined the Black Alliance for Educational Options and local parents, pastors and activists to call on JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens and the district’s school board to embrace public charter schools as a means of reversing Louisville’s racial achievement gap and stemming the tide of violence that has overwhelmed the community.

Mattie Jones, a well-known local civil rights activist, spoke of her recent visit to the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School in Indianapolis – a public charter school nationally recognized for closing academic achievement gaps between white and black students, despite the fact that blacks comprise 96 percent of Tindley’s student population and 63 percent reside in low-income homes.

“I’ve seen firsthand what a charter school education can do for black and poor children,” Jones said. “They can learn and turn from the violence and path to prison and it’s time for leaders in Louisville and Kentucky to give parents and students this proven option.”

Charter schools are publicly funded schools that are managed differently than traditional public schools. These schools are allowed to operate free of many of the cumbersome regulations that hinder public-school teachers and administrators.

Despite an intricate busing policy and other largely cosmetic changes – such as reconstituting school staff and redistributing student populations, the institute’s new report, “Blacks still falling in the ‘GAP’ in Louisville’s Schools,” show serious gaps in graduation and academic-proficiency rates among JCPS students.

“While Louisville says its schools are integrated, is that really true?” Richard G. Innes, the institute’s education analyst and the report’s author, wondered.

According to Innes, during the 2011 school year:

  • 73 JCPS schools had gaps of at least 20 percent in math proficiency rates while at least one in four schools had math disparities of at least 30 points.
  • Surprisingly, the data shows that most of the schools with the largest gaps are found east of I-65, where schools generally are considered to be performing at a higher level. For example, 95 percent of Dunn Elementary School’s white students scored proficient in math, compared to only 39 percent of its blacks – a 56-percent gap.
  • Fourteen of the 18 JCPS elementary schools with gaps of at least 30 points in math are located east of I-65, including Dunn, Wilder, Chenoweth, Field, Bloom, Shelby, St. Matthews, Hawthorne, Stopher, Middletown, Hite, Tully, Fern  Creek and Bates.

The report also found that graduation gaps in JCPS schools cuts both ways:

  • The graduation-rate gap at Western High School is more than 30 points, with black students graduating at a much-higher rate (66 percent) than whites (35 percent).
  • At Eastern High School, it’s just the opposite: Whites graduate at an 83 percent rate while only 49 percent of blacks finish.

“While Louisville says its schools are integrated, is that really true?” Innes asks. “Even though the racial make-up at the school level might appear acceptable based on ‘head counts,’ what happens when you get into classrooms? Do black kids get trapped into different, lower-performing classrooms whites get into other faster-tracked programs?”

Not only do JCPS authorities need to explain these “chronic, geographically related gap problems.” which appear to result in “classroom-level segregation,” he said.

“One thing is certain: Louisville’s schools need different answers,” Innes said. “Charter schools have been cutting into the gap problem in other states, and it’s time to try charters in Kentucky – and especially in Louisville – as well.”