A possible clue about big achievement gaps in some Jefferson County schools?

Over the years the Bluegrass Institute has issued several reports on the white minus black achievement gaps in the Jefferson County Public School District (JCPS) (Click here for the latest edition). We found a number of surprises in this report series, including the fact that the largest white minus black math achievement gaps in JCPS are predominantly found in schools in the upper-scale East side of the district. In our latest report, the Dunn Elementary school stands out for its enormous 50.5 percentage point white minus black achievement gap in 2015 KPREP math testing and some other JCPS schools don’t do much better. These gaps are particularly surprising given the massive busing for equity program in JCPS.

So, the test results indicate there is a problem in Jefferson County. Why this is happening is beyond our ability to investigate.

Nevertheless, we had suspicions. For one thing, just because the ratios of whites and blacks look good at the school level doesn’t mean those ratios hold at the classroom level. It certainly seemed possible that kids of color were being shuttled into less demanding classes. No one in authority seemed to be looking at that.

There the matter sat until yesterday, when the Courier-Journal published a rather amazing Op-Ed, “Black students feel voiceless at Manual High School, so I staged a sit-in.” It was authored by Quintez Brown, a clearly very sharp young man from duPont Manual High School, a highly competitive magnet school in JCPS.

Writes Brown:

“I had the opportunity to go to elementary schools such as Fern Creek and Norton (which was very far from my home), where not only was the majority of the school white, but I was usually one of the few black students in my advanced classes. Despite being integrated into a suburban school in a predominantly white neighborhood, there were still signs of segregation inside classrooms (emphasis added).

  • Note: In the research for our latest gap report we found that Norton Elementary School had a math achievement gap of 43.8 percentage points in 2015, the seventh worst white minus black math achievement gap among the 89 JCPS elementary schools with data. Fern Creek also ranked rather low with the 27th worst gap of 27.0 percentage points.

Brown continues:

“Black students are placed in lower-level classes, have higher suspension rates, and are viewed as ‘troublemakers’ within the school system. Black students who do get placed in advanced courses with a majority of white students now face the challenges of microaggressions, implicit biases and other verbal and nonverbal behaviors that enforce their marginalization in the educational system.”

So, here is possible insight into what we found in our reports about JCPS achievement gaps. And, this raises VERY serious questions about the real impact of massive busing in Louisville, too.

People leading the JCPS and the Kentucky Department of Education need to investigate this situation. At the very least, if busing really isn’t working, we can save a ton of money and diesel in Louisville.

But, most importantly, as Brown so nicely sums this up:

“Diversity in education is extremely important. But it is not enough. Diversity without equity leads to exclusion.”

More from the Twittersphere

Back on September 23rd, Jim Waters, the BIPPS CEO, issued “Bluegrass Beacon: Site-based concept failing schools, students.” This Beacon article is about problems in general with Kentucky’s School Based Decision Making (SBDM) system. Waters points out that even in what, by Kentucky standards, is the high performing school district in Boone County, the SBDM system creates serious problems and notable confusion for even highly experienced educators.

Most notably, Waters’ article never even mentions Jefferson County or Louisville. The article is directed at a statewide problem that impacts all Kentucky school districts.

But, staying on topic doesn’t matter in the Twittersphere. The very same day that the Beacon article was released, a Tweet showed up criticizing BIPPS for “attacking” urban districts (think Jefferson County here) while calling Boone County “high performing.” The tweet alleged that Boone County had the same issues as Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), though “diluted” (whatever that might really mean). The Tweet’s implication was that educational performance in Boone County wasn’t materially different from Jefferson County’s.

Never mind that the article never made such comparisons.

In any event, the idea that folks in Jefferson County, which certainly isn’t performing well for its students, believed their school district was somehow equivalent to Boone’s performance was troubling. So, I collected 2016 ACT score data from the Kentucky School Report Card for each district and assembled that into the table below. Click the “Read more” link to see that.

[Read more…]

Jefferson County Public Schools denies Bluegrass Institute’s records request


Edit: Here is the actual letter sent by BIPPS to the JCPS– JCPS open records request 

It did not come as a complete surprise to the Bluegrass Institute when the Jefferson County Public Schools denied our request for written communications exchanged by officials, staff, board of education members and Superintendent Donna Hargens relating to the superintendent’s performance during the most recent evaluation cycle and her ultimate resignation, including written communications exchanged on privately owned electronic devices or stored in personal accounts.

We were aware of the obstacles we faced in attempting to access communications exchanged on private devices. The attorney general has undermined the public’s ability to access these records by twice declaring that they are not public records as defined in the open records law because they were not possessed and/or used by the agencies whose employees or members created them.

Never mind  that his own staff has, for years, recognized that “in the end, it is the nature and purpose of the document, not the place where it is kept, that determines its status as a public record.”

And never mind that the statute defines “public record” as “documentation regardless of physical form or characteristics, which is prepared, owned, used, in the possession or retained by a public agency.”

Proponents of access, including the Bluegrass Institute, will continue to wage a battle to prove that the attorney general’s position is legally unsupportable. But the battle to disprove JCPS’s position for denying the remainder of our request, which is summarized above for purposes of brevity, was fought and won several years ago.

JCPS argued that because our request was not sufficiently specific, it required a search of all 25,000 email accounts across the district, implicated “in excess of”  1,000,000 records and was unreasonably burdensome.

The Kentucky Supreme Court rejected similar arguments in a 2008 opinion. Noting that an open records requester “could not blindly, yet with particularity,” request “documents . . .that he had never seen,” the Court held that if “a reasonable person could ascertain the nature and scope” of an open records request the request was adequate.

More importantly, the Court recognized that “the obvious fact that complying with an open records request will consume both time and manpower” did not satisfy the “high proof threshold” for establishing an unreasonable burden. An agency cannot  “rely on any inefficiency in its own internal record keeping system to thwart an otherwise proper open records request.”

Although there are factual differences between our case and the 2008 case,  the Supreme Court’s holding applies to both.

Unlike the agency in the referenced case, JCPS did not close the door to our request altogether. Instead JCPA asked that we specify dates and search terms that are likely to yield the records we seek. However, we question whether it is our duty to assist JCPS in conducting its obligatory search for the records we requested. The parameters of our request were clearly stated.

We also question whether JCPS’s records management practices compound the difficulties associated with locating, retrieving and reviewing records in order to respond to all open records requests, not just ours. What would otherwise be a manageable number of records – as older records meet their required retention and are lawfully destroyed — becomes unmanageable as records unnecessarily accumulate through the years. Its considerably easier to locate, retrieve and review 100 records than 1000 records, and, in this case, an estimated 1,000,000 records.

The burden on JCPS is likely not of our making but of its own.

In the final analysis, we question JCPS’s candor in suggesting that our request necessitates a review of 25,000 email accounts and “30 days of machine time.” JCPS is only required to “make a good faith effort to conduct a search using methods which could reasonably be expected to produce the records requested.” It is not required “to embark on an unproductive fishing expedition ‘when the likelihood of finding records that fall within the outermost limits of the zone of relevancy is slight.’”

Perhaps JCPS’s  time would be better spent in commencing its search for records responsive to our request rather than trotting out these hackneyed defenses.


Will it be strike two for Jefferson County Schools’ Chief Academic Officer manning?

More major problems are brewing for the already beleaguered Jefferson County school system.

On April 21, 2017, an online service connected to the Birmingham News newspaper reported that Lisa Herring, the current Chief Academic Officer (CAO) at the Jefferson County Public School District (JCPS), is a finalist to become Birmingham, Alabama’s new school superintendent.

So, it appears Herring, who has been on the job less than a year in Louisville, isn’t exactly in love with her current position in JCPS.

This is no surprise. In fact, the CAO position at JCPS had a highly troubled history even before Herring arrived, and recent events point to a lot more heat headed in the CAO’s way.

[Read more…]

Bluegrass Institute report raises strong concerns about continued achievement gaps and graduation failures in Jefferson County

For Immediate Release: Monday, Feb. 29, 2016BIPPS Logo_pick

(LOUISVILLE, Ky.) – Legislators and educators made a promise more than a quarter-century ago when the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) was passed: In return for vastly increased education spending, the Bluegrass State was going to do a much better job of educating its students – especially the commonwealth’s racial minorities.

However, a new Bluegrass Institute report, “Blacks Continue Falling Through Gaps in Louisville’s Schools: The 2016 Update,” is available at www.bipps.org and provides highly unsettling evidence that the promise has not been kept.

“This is one of the most disturbing reports on Kentucky’s educational performance that the Bluegrass Institute has ever released,” Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters said at a news conference today in front of the Jefferson County Public Schools’ central offices at the VanHoose Education Center, 3332 Newburg Road.

Report author and Bluegrass Institute staff education analyst Richard Innes in the 2016 update finds notable declines in scores for Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) blacks on both eighth-grade EXPLORE and the 10th-grade PLAN. White-minus-black achievement gaps widened in all subject areas between the 2011-12 and 2014-15 school years and the percentages of blacks meeting EXPLORE’s readiness benchmark scores are lower now, as well. PLAN results are nearly as dismal.

While small improvements have occurred in some areas of the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) math testing, the new report finds 2015 white-minus-black math-achievement gaps exceed 10 percentage points in 116 out of total of 134 JCPS schools that reported full data. Worst of all, data released by the Kentucky Department of Education show that the academic-achievement gaps at Dunn Elementary and Noe Middle schools exceed an astonishing 50 percentage points.

There also is a geographic pattern to JCPS’ academic-achievement gap with the largest disparity in math found in the more-affluent sections on Louisville’s East Side.

The report also answers another mystery: why a number of Louisville high schools officially report notably higher graduation rates for blacks instead of whites. Using a new analysis technique developed by Innes, it appears the reason for this unexpected reverse achievement gap in graduation rates is due to an extreme and unbalanced amount of social promotion to a high-school diploma in Louisville’s schools.

Innes finds a 20-point difference in the reported high school graduation rates for whites and the number of white ninth-grade students who graduate four years later ready for either college or a career. For blacks, however, the differential is an astonishingly high 42.2 points – indicating many black high-school graduates in Jefferson County are getting hollow pieces of paper.

“Burdened taxpayers and concerned parents want to know what the district’s plan is for closing these unacceptable gaps and ensuring that the promise of KERA is kept: that all students, no matter the color of their skin, socioeconomic status or zip code, can achieve and succeed at the highest levels,” Waters said. “Plus, it’s not unreasonable to expect a school district with a $1.4 billion budget to come up with some ideas other than simply throwing more of taxpayers’ hard-earned money at the problem.”

The Bluegrass Institute is Kentucky’s first and only free-market think tank and is dedicated to advancing sound public-policy solutions based on credible data and its principles of individual liberty, economic prosperity and limited – and transparent – government. For interview information, please contact report author Richard Innes at 859-466-8198 or dinnes@freedomkentucky.com.

News Release: Report: New K-PREP testing shows Louisville’s black students still falling through gaps

(LOUISVILLE, Ky.) – A new report by the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free market think tank, reveals that the commonwealth’s largest school district continues to fail its black students.

An update to the institute’s “Blacks Falling Through Gaps” report from the Summer of 2012 shows dramatic proficiency rate gaps between black and white students continue to exist in many Jefferson County Public Schools.

The updated report – based on results from the new Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) tests – also reveals that the highest gaps still tend to be found in schools east of Interstate 65.

Norton and Brandeis Elementary Schools both posted astonishingly large white-black math proficiency rate gaps of more than 51 percentage points. Kentucky’s new Unbridled Learning school accountability program rated both schools in the highest classification as “Schools of Distinction” while failing to identify their achievement-gap problems.

Large gaps also continue at Dunn Elementary School.

“Dunn has a very large K-PREP math achievement gap of nearly 49 percentage points, but Unbridled Learning provides no clue about the problem,” said Richard G. Innes, Bluegrass Institute staff education analyst and author of the new report. “Unbridled Learning tells Kentuckians that Dunn is a ‘Proficient’ school, which indicates this school performs better than at least 70 percent of all the schools in Kentucky.

“Dunn may perform for its whites, but blacks in this school didn’t even reach district wide black proficiency rate for Jefferson County schools and really got left behind.”

More details can be found in the report, which is available online at www.bipps.org.

Listen to Richard Innes’ WHAS interview about JCPS

Monday morning, Richard Innes spent about 45 minutes discussing the test score debacle in Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) with Mandy Connell on WHAS. Listen to the discussion below.

You can read Innes’ thoughts about the JCPS test score coming storm here and here.

BIPPS education analyst to discuss test scores on WHAS

Richard Innes, education analyst for the Bluegrass Institute, will be discussing the brewing test-score storm in Jefferson County Public Schools on WHAS with Mandy Connell. Be sure to tune in Monday at 9 a.m.! You can listen here.

For background information, you can read Innes’ recent comments on the situation here.

Press Conf. Highlights (Blacks Falling Through Gaps)

Yesterday I filmed at the press conference for our new report (by Richard G. Innes) Blacks Falling Through Gaps. Here’s a highlight video of some of the key moments. Be sure to post on your Facebook page (copy this link https://vimeo.com/44294354)

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.”