In the midst of a robust debate about the future of Jefferson County Public Schools, the leader of a non-partisan education advocacy group says Louisville’s public education system cannot blame extreme poverty and racial diversity for its failing schools.
In an editorial published by Insider Louisville, Cindy Heine, interim director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, defends the state assessment process, saying that high academic expectations are necessary for Kentucky students to compete in today’s workforce.
The op-ed piece says that JCPS faces challenges similar to school districts throughout the commonwealth, which haven’t fallen behind as drastically despite having “extreme poverty” and “rural isolation.”
From Insider Louisville:
The fact of the matter is that Jefferson County has fallen behind in recent years on state assessments. The percent of Jefferson County students scoring at the lowest levels (called novices) went up from 2007 to 2010 in all five elementary school subjects.
At the middle and high school levels, novice performance increased in every subject except writing. Over the same period, the percent reaching state standards went down.
That is, proficient and distinguished results declined in three of five elementary school subjects, four of five middle school subjects, and four of five high school subjects.
The measurement that determines the state’s low-performing schools has been characterized by some as being too narrow in scope and flawed in other ways. But, whether you like the measuring stick or not, it’s the same one used to measure all schools in Kentucky.
And the students in many of those schools, located in districts throughout the state, face significant challenges due to extreme poverty, rural isolation and other factors.
But many of those schools deliver at high levels for students. For example, 46 Kentucky schools are in the top 25 percent for reading results and also in the top 25 percent for low-income enrollment.
Since the school board voted against renewing Superintendent Sheldon Berman’s contract, academic achievement has been a centerpiece of the discussion in finding a replacement, however some — such as school board member Linda Duncan — say JCPS doesn’t have enough resources.
Duncan also called the state’s academic standards “unrealistic” and “unacceptable.”
It’s true that JCPS faces challenges that go beyond the classroom and include a high number of at-risk students in an urban district. This school year, for instance, 61 percent of students are receiving free or reduced lunches. And last school year, the number of homeless students jumped 23 percent to 10,555, an increase of nearly 2,000 students over the previous year.
However, Heine contends that should not mean officials lower standards in order to avoid scathing audits and necessary restructuring.
“What we’re saying is that school districts need to set high expectations for every student,” Heine says. “We cannot make the assumption that because children have challenges that they cannot learn.”