King’s legacy remains unrealized in too many Kentucky classrooms

page-0 (2)As Kentuckians have homage today to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at many events throughout the commonwealth on what would have been the 89th birthday of the civil rights pioneer, it’s important to remember what’s been accomplished as well as that which remains undone and, perhaps most importantly, what’s possible when it comes to ensuring that every Kentuckian — no matter race, socioeconomic background or zip code — has the opportunity to strive for the individual liberty and pursuit of happiness enshrined in our nation’s founding.

I recently had the opportunity to stop by Ebenezer Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta where Dr. King co-pastored with his father “Daddy” King for many years and where his son was eulogized following his assassination in 1968 and reflect not only on the challenges that remain in our nation to achieving Dr. King’s dream but also on the significant progress made toward achieving true equality of opportunity.

It would be difficult for even the most-hardened race baiters to deny that Dr. King’s dream that “one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls” is more a reality now than ever before. There was a time, after all, when the President of the United States had to send in federal troops to ensure our public schools would no longer be segregated. That, fortunately, is no longer the case.

Now just as unfortunately, a different kind of segregation exists in our public-school classrooms.

Tragically, the situation continues to worsen rather than improve.

Some say Kentucky’s schools can’t overcome these types of achievement gaps. However, we have examples of schools with very low gaps in the white minus black math proficiency rates despite poverty rates well above state average. For example, Wilt and Crofton elementary schools in Jefferson and Christian counties, respectively, have math proficiency rate gaps of less than one percentage point and school lunch eligibility rates nearly eight points above the state average.

Yet while these schools demonstrate it’s possible to close or even eliminate achievement gaps, that isn’t the trend in Kentucky:

  • In KPREP Algebra II End-of-Course testing, the white minus black proficiency rate gap jumped up notably from 16.8 percentage points in 2016 to 23 percentage points in 2017.
  • In KPREP middle school reading, the white minus black proficiency rate gap of 28.3 percentage points in 2017 was the largest gap ever posted for this subject and school level since KPREP started in 2012.
  • The gap picture for KPREP elementary school reading mirrored the middle school results. Kentucky’s elementary school white minus black reading achievement gap in 2017 was the largest ever recorded for KPREP.
  • In Kentucky’s 11th grade ACT testing, the math score gap between white and blacks in 2017 is exactly the same as it was in every previous year from 2013 on except for 2015. The gap isn’t getting better.

Sadly, many individuals and organizations who claim to carry King’s mantle in the civil rights movement either ignore or dismiss the story of educational inequality told by these numbers.

One of the primary reasons the Bluegrass Institute continues to advocate giving parents choices concerning where their children receive are educated is because no child should be trapped in a failing school simply because their family is poor or can’t write a big tuition check. Too much evidence now exists showing that while school-choice programs, including charter schools, scholarship tax credits and Education Savings Accounts, may not save every poor black child, it’s creating life-changing opportunities for millions of American children who otherwise would fall through the cracks and wind up on welfare, the street corner, prison or the morgue.

We’ll continue to promote school-choice policies built on the idea that parents, not bureaucrats, politicians or administrators, know what’s best for their children, and that families deserve options so Kentucky’s kids — especially those that already have two strikes against them in life — have a chance.

Don’t tell me Dr. King wouldn’t have agreed.

“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”

…and so do we…

BIPPS in Lexington Herald-Leader: Challenging KERA’s ‘success’

Some defenders of the education status quo contend that the existence of the Kentucky Education Reform Act renders charter schools useless in the Bluegrass State.

But staff education analyst Richard Innes challenges the claim, taking issue with KERA architect David Hornbeck’s recent assertions that “Kentucky children have made more progress than any other state in the union.”

Innes responds: The commonwealth’s chronic achievement gap makes it clear that KERA’s promise of all kids receiving a quality education remains sorely unfulfilled — most of all for the Bluegrass State’s largest racial minority group.

“The commonwealth’s chronic achievement gap makes it clear that KERA’s promise of all kids receiving a quality education remains sorely unfulfilled — most of all for the Bluegrass State’s largest racial minority group. The truth is, given their record of success with minorities, charters could help in Kentucky.

The truth is, given their record of success with minorities, charters could help in Kentucky.

KERA, despite Hornbeck’s claims, hasn’t.”

Read Richard’s entire op-ed here.

Bluegrass Beacon: Clinton’s backflip on charter schools ‘a step backwards’

BluegrassBeaconLogoHillary Clinton supported charter schools before being endorsed by the big teachers’ unions and receiving access to their cash and get-out-the-vote efforts.

Clinton wrote in her memoir “It Takes a Village” that she favors “promoting choice among public schools,” while later claiming “charter schools are a way of bringing teachers and parents and communities together.”

Now, after guzzling union-flavored Kool-Aid, Clinton is flip-flopping so hard against reasonable education reforms, including charter schools – claiming they “don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them,” that even President Obama’s supporters howl.

Peter Cunningham, an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education during Obama’s first term, disapproves of the Democratic Party platform on “The 74,” claiming it “affirms an education system that denies its shortcomings and is unwilling to address them.”

A report from the highly respected Manhattan Institute in Clinton’s adopted state of New York suggests her newfound claims are flat wrong, finding that students who are disabled, learning English or performing low on standardized tests “are as likely to remain in charters as in traditional public schools.”

Charter-school opponents in Kentucky have pushed similar misinformation for the past several years.

One of their favorite claims: charter schools get rid of disruptive, troubled or low-performing students whereas traditional public schools must accept all enrollees. Therefore, the argument goes, charters appear to perform better in many areas of the country because of such attrition.

However, Manhattan’s analysis of enrollment and test-score data from New York City, Denver and an anonymous urban Midwest school district “found that low-performing students are just as likely to exit traditional public schools as they are to exit charters.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial page responded to Clinton’s backflip by suggesting: “If you want to see public schools that really don’t tolerate disruptive students, go to your average rich suburban school.”

Charter schools are more likely to attract those students in danger of failing in the traditional public schools to which they have been assigned; these are the students about which charter-school opponents – which now apparently includes Clinton – feign concern.

According to the Center for Education Reform, a greater percentage of charter-school versus traditional-school enrollees are black (28 percent to 16 percent), Hispanic (28 percent to 23 percent) or qualify for free and reduced-price lunches (63 percent to 48 percent).

Charters in growing cities like Atlanta aren’t only enrolling more minority and low-income students, but they’re succeeding in getting these children to a level of academic proficiency that gives them a fighting chance in life.

Black students in Atlanta charter schools significantly outperformed their fellow blacks in traditional public schools in nearly every key academic category on the 2015 National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), including in fourth-grade reading (216-199) and eighth-grade reading (266-243) and math (278-255).

Meanwhile, Kentucky School Report Cards show the academic-achievement gap between black and white eighth-graders in the Jefferson County Public Schools – Kentucky’s largest school district – widened between 2012 and 2015 on the ACT’s EXPLORE test results in all key academic areas, including English, math, reading and science.

The students on the losing end of this gap are the ones who would most benefit from charters in Kentucky – one of only seven states that still doesn’t allow charter schools.

Obama supporter Cunningham calls out Clinton and the Democratic Party platform for its proposed restrictions on charters in ways that would make them less effective.

It’s “a step backwards” that will particularly harm “low-income black and Hispanic children,” he adds.

Kentucky Democrats should take a cue from Cunningham and embrace the approach taken by many of their fellow Dems nationwide, including United States Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who, when he was Delaware’s governor, not only signed a bill opening his state to charter schools, but also enrolled his two sons in charters.

More than 14,000 children are enrolled in Delaware’s charters today because a Democratic governor dared to put his bill-signing pen where his principles – not teachers’-union lackeys – stand.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute; Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at Read previously published columns at

Pastors coalition releases education-choice platform; will call on gubernatorial candidates to sign



Contact: Pastor Jerry L Stephenson, Senior Pastor, Midwest Church of Christ

(812) 207-7156

The news conference will take place, 9:30am, Monday, October 5, 2015 at Christ Temple Christian Life Center, 723 S. 45th, Louisville, KY 40211


The Kentucky Pastors in Action Coalition is a diverse group of Faith Leaders in Louisville Demanding More Choice for Parents, Students in Education, said Pastor Dr. Shannon C Cook.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Kentucky Pastors in Action Coalition (K-PAC), a diverse group of faith leaders, releases its 2016 Education Platform calling for charter schools and parental choice to address the pervasive school failures in Louisville that have disproportionately affected African-American and low-income Kentuckians.

“Education equality is the civil rights issue of the 21st century; it is the dividing line between success and failure for our children. But a lack of innovation in schools has blockaded our children from the opportunity they deserve,” said Pastor Milton Seymore, president of the Justice Resource Center of K-PAC. “Kentucky leaders can begin fulfilling the promise of education equality through our platform: charter schools in West Louisville, education savings accounts for families and expanded choice through vouchers for prekindergarten.”

The group’s platform was crafted in response to the low-achieving public schools of Jefferson County and the performance gaps for minority students. In Louisville’s Metro Council Districts 4 and 6, an average of 80 percent of students are below-proficient in reading and math.

Bishop Dr. Michael Ford, Sr., Senior Pastor, Christ Temple Christian Life Center said, “For too long, education in Kentucky has been measured by how it appeases elected officials, bureaucrats and administrators rather than how it can provide opportunity for our kids, which is why we are demanding reforms that empower parents as decision-makers. Frankfort isn’t looking out for children of color so it’s time to give their parents the tools to do it themselves.”

K-PAC will be contacting all of the gubernatorial candidates and candidates for Attorney General asking them to take a public position in support of funding public charter schools and providing parents choices in education.

The Kentucky Pastors in Action Coalition (K-PAC) is a faith-driven coalition dedicated to being the voice calling for education equality for children of low-income, working-class, black and white families in Metro Louisville’s West End communities.

Bluegrass Beacon: Hopeful rhetoric adorns wall of school-choice obstructionism

BluegrassBeaconLogoHouse Education Committee Chairman Derrick Graham’s recent op-ed reveals his clear understanding of Kentucky’s education deficiencies.

Graham, D-Frankfort, is well aware of the “persistent disparities in performance between groups of students, especially those defined as minorities, disabled or low-income.”

He eloquently addresses how “students caught in the achievement gap are disproportionately from African-American, Latino and low-income homes,” and how “these discrepancies stunt not only the educational attainment of these students, but their future economic opportunities as well.”

Graham recognizes that “clearly, far too many schools are falling short.”

Why, then, does he employ more stall tactics than a star defense lawyer when it comes to allowing Kentucky parents to have viable alternatives, including public charter schools, for educating their children – especially when a growing body of evidence indicates that such parental-controlled choices help address those very issues he stews about?

While the state Senate recently passed solid legislation to bring public charter schools to Kentucky, Graham – as he often does – used his substantial power as committee chairman to kill the thoughtful, effective and restrained approach in the state House.

The Senate-approved policy creates a pilot program allowing five charter schools in Kentucky’s two largest and most-urban school districts – similar to densely populated, low-income communities nationwide where charters more often than not have an impressive track record of high test scores, graduation rates and college attendance and low failure and dropout numbers.

Graham offered legislation purporting to close the achievement gap and turn around failing schools.

While these bills may reinforce Graham’s any-option-but-charter-schools’ stance with the state teachers’ union – where he no doubt would like to land a cushy job after his legislative tenure – they offer little in the way of actual education improvement for Kentucky’s neediest students.

Accomplishing that requires policies – including parental school-choice options – that would put him at odds with the union bosses.

Graham’s turnaround bill would have allowed for an “external management organization” to come in and advise a failing school’s existing leadership – but only after that school failed four years in a row.

So if Johnny enters a school that fails during his first-grade year, he’s finished the fourth grade before this dull accountability tool can even be picked up. And if, by chance, the school happens to barely pass during Johnny’s fourth-grade year – even after three consecutive years of failure – then it gets to start over with a new “shot clock.”

Two other significant developments regarding charter schools occurred on the day Graham’s op-ed was published by the Lexington Herald-Leader:

  • Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) released the results of one of its most comprehensive research projects ever, comparing charters with traditional schools in urban areas in 22 different states.

“This research shows that many urban charter schools are providing superior academic learning for their students,” CREDO director Margaret Raymond said.

Do parents not deserve such options, especially considering the fact that the math proficiency-rate gap among Kentucky’s middle-school students has more than doubled since the Kentucky Education Reform Act was implemented – from 9 points in 1990 to 22 points in 2013?

Among Graham’s flowery rhetoric was his acknowledgement that Kentucky legislators have “a moral obligation and legal responsibility” to ensure such gaps are closed.

So if politicians like Graham and the handful of his party’s fellow charter-school obstructionists in the House fail to close the gaps by blocking school-choice policies that have proven effective elsewhere, does that make such obstruction immoral and even illegal?

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at Read previously published columns at