During the Kentucky Legislature’s Interim Joint Education Committee hearings on school choice and charter schools for Kentucky on November 10, 2014, one Kentucky state senator said he first needed to do more research, including digging into such things as terrible performance at Lexington’s William Wells Brown Elementary School.
But, how much more research can we possibly need?
For starters, William Wells Brown Elementary School was the lowest performing school in Kentucky in the recently released Unbridled Learning results from 2014. The Kentucky School Report Cards for William Wells show its overall Unbridled Learning accountability score actually declined between 2012 and 2013. Then, William Wells’ scores dropped again between 2013 and 2014.
In William Wells only a dismally low 19.8 percent of the African-American students were proficient on reading in 2014 testing. Statewide, African-Americans posted a 33.8 percent proficiency rate, 170 percent of the William Wells performance, though that is still far too low.
Things were even worse in math. Only 15.3 percent of William Wells’ African-Americans were proficient while statewide the figure was 30.3 percent, just shy of being 200 percent of the William Wells figure.
Even more telling, the school was designated as a “Focus School” three years ago in 2012. This school has been getting “researched” for three years already, but that has not helped. As I mentioned earlier, Unbridled Learning says William Wells just keeps getting worse. Its students suffer while the traditional system keeps trying unimaginative things that make work for adults and don’t work for kids. We don’t need a jobs project in our public schools – we need real, effective education.
Sadly, the William Wells story isn’t unique. And, stories like it are nothing new in Kentucky, either.
Furthermore, the “research” has been in for some time.
These four graphs show the Kentucky-wide public school white and black proficiency rates on fourth and eighth grade reading and math from the earliest to latest available State National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) administrations. The evidence is clear: Kentucky achievement gaps in 2013 in every single case are larger than they were in the first available test year of this State NAEP data.
Aside from the obvious growth in Kentucky’s white minus black NAEP achievement gaps, one of the really distressing messages in these graphs is that black proficiency rates have improved very little over the past two-plus decades that KERA has been in force in Kentucky. In fact, there have been no statistically significant changes for fourth and eighth grade African-American reading since 2003. And, Grade 8 African-American math improvement essentially has been static since 2007.
Anyone who says they need to do more study of these issues probably isn’t studying at all. Kentucky has a major achievement gap problem. The state has had it for a long time. It isn’t getting better.
There has been nearly a quarter of a century to do “studies” since KERA was enacted. Meanwhile, minority kids in this state’s traditional public education system have continued to seriously under-perform the state’s whites for nearly a quarter of a century. It’s time to start looking for imaginative new answers that work outside of the box. School choice is one of those out of the box ways to help improve Kentucky’s achievement gap problems.