Bluegrass Institute Report: Black students falling behind peers - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Bluegrass Institute Report: Black students falling behind peers in JCPS

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- "Enough is enough." Some leaders in the black community say they are sick of black children being left behind in school in Jefferson County.

So they are pushing for charter schools, saying they would be a better option for students.

Bluegrass Institute, a conservative, free-market think tank, released a study Monday saying black students in JCPS continue falling through the gaps. 

Leaders in the black community prayed outside the Van Hoose Education Center Monday before taking the podium with passion.

"There's no future, seems like there's no future for the African-American child in Jefferson County. He or she will always be behind," said Rev. Milton Seymore, of the Justice Resource Center. 

"The system is failing our most vulnerable children and the administrators of this system that we're paying large amounts of taxpayer dollars, with the expectation that they will fix these problems and close these gaps, simply don't know how to do it," said Jim Waters, president of Bluegrass Institute.
 
The group pointed to a recent WDRB investigation which questioned millions of dollars of state money for a reading program that were instead used to pay for school nurses.

"This (Bluegrass Institute) report shows that this was occurring even while the reading performance of black students continued to decline," said Waters. 

JCPS released a statement from Dr. Donna Hargens, saying the Bluegrass Institute report, "ignores the improvements and gains in proficiency rates, which is the precursor to increasing college and career readiness."

The leaders who gathered Monday to voice concerns say busing students is not benefiting them, and that charter schools need to become a reality.

"I'm out here to say enough is enough," said Seymore. "We need charter schools. We need private schools. Jefferson County needs some kind of competition." 

Superintendent Dr. Donna Hargens' full response to the Bluegrass Institute report:

A key component of our Vision 2020 strategic plan is to ensure all students graduate prepared, empowered and inspired. 

In Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), we are making strides in closing the achievement gap, but there is still work to be done.

The report provided today by the Bluegrass Institute ignores the improvements and gains in proficiency rates, which is the precursor to increasing college and career readiness.  During the past several years, the JCPS college and career readiness rate for students has doubled and our students are more proficient.  

  • Overall, the percentage of African-American students scoring proficient or distinguished increased by 4.8% from 2012 to 2015 in combined reading and math.  
  • JCPS elementary African-American students increased by 8% during that same time period.
  • The percentage of African-American students who were college and career ready increased from 32.5% in 2013 to 44.8% in 2015.
  • The percentage of African-American males who were college and career ready increased from 31.1% in 2013 to 41.1% in 2015.
  • The graduation rate for African-American students increased from 74.2% in 2013 to 76.5% in 2015.
  • The graduation rate for African-American males increased from 69.1% in 2013 to 71.2% in 2015.
  • The percentage of African-American males participating in Advanced Program increased from 5.1% in 2013 to 6.5% in 2015.
  • The percentage of African-American males taking Advance Placement tests increased from 6.2% in 2013 to 8.3% in 2015.

The gains we’ve made reflect strategic interventions by the district and the board, which have been nationally recognized.  Through the Department of Diversity, Equity and Poverty, JCPS has conducted professional development for teachers, created innovative learning programs for students, provided extended learning opportunities after school, and introduced African-American students to Advanced Program classes in their schools.  This is ground-breaking work that is unique to a large urban district.

The district must continue working to close the achievement gap, and much of that work must take place with early childhood education interventions.  We know if a child begins his or her educational career behind peers, he or she spends that educational career trying to play catch up.  That’s why investment in kindergarten readiness and elementary reading interventions are so important.

In JCPS early childhood education programs, African-American students are actually outperforming their peers.  In the fall of 2015, 50.9% of African-American students who participated in JCPS early childhood programs were kindergarten ready, compared to 47.7% of white students in JCPS early childhood programs and 32.8% of African-American students who did not participate in JCPS early childhood programs.  

JCPS shares concerns about the accountability system and is heartened that the new Kentucky Department of Education Commissioner has talked about the opportunity for the state to work to improve it.  Dr. Pruitt said he will hold listening sessions to hear from the citizens of the Commonwealth.  JCPS stands ready to support and participate.

In order for JCPS to continue making forward progress, we need continued community support.  We need people inside and outside of the district who come to work every day committed and dedicated to our students and to making Louisville better.  We need all citizens to engage and be part of the improvement process.  

Dr. Donna Hargens
JCPS Superintendent

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