Jefferson County Public Schools Must Address Disparities in School System

Jefferson County’s public school system of magnet schools and student assignment benefited white and affluent families for decades at the expense of black and low-income families.

And JCPS knows it.

Superintendent Marty Pollio is calling for long overdue change, and the Jefferson County School Board must respond by addressing the disparities in our education system.

And there are many disparities.

Courier Journal reporter Mandy McLaren, during a month-long multi-part investigation, exposed a system that created “haves” and “have-nots” by fostering elite magnetic programs designed to maintain white families in the public school system while sacrificing struggling schools.

The Courier Journal investigation showed:

  • Magnet programs that were supposed to champion diversity serve few black, poor, and special education students.
  • The district’s traditional folk schools “exited” 1,110 children between 2016-17 and 2018-19 for poor grades, attendance or behavior. More than half of the students released from the magnets in 2018-19 were black. Three quarters were poor.
  • Although duPont Manual, Louisville’s top high school, is technically open to any qualified JCPS student, two colleges with highly competitive application processes have provided more than half of Manual’s children over the past 15 years in an unqualified pipeline. official that knowledgeable parents have exploited.
  • National education experts have documented problems with JCPS magnets and recommended reforms to give poor and minority students better access, but the district has ignored almost all of them and in the process lost up to 15 million in federal funding for magnet schools. .

Read it here:Magnetic Pull: a survey of magnet schools

These results should be a wake-up call for everyone – especially the Jefferson County Board of Education, which has the power to change the system.

We have heard whispers for years about “bad schools” and “good schools” existing side by side in the same neighborhood. The Courier Journal combed through 15 years of data and shed light on the inequities. No one should be okay with the status quo anymore. The fact that an unjust system like this could last for decades is shameful. Leaving it like that would be immoral.

Pollio has recommended reforms for JCPS’ school assignment programs and hopes a vote on his proposal will take place this spring. Magnet Schools of America recommended 26 changes to JCPS programs in 2014. Much of what Pollio offers aligns with these recommendations, which would benefit all of our children.

Pollio’s proposal strives to achieve formula-based diversity goals that take into account a student’s median income, education level, and nonwhite population in their neighborhood. The proposal shifts control of student selection lotteries from the school to the central office, where its integrity can be better protected.

It must happen.

District policy that allows magnet schools to expel or “exit” students also needs to change. Magnet Schools of America expressed concerns in 2014 about the “legality and ethics” of JCPS’ exit policy, which does not conform to national standards for the Magnet program. It was eight years ago. The outings continue today.

This is unacceptable.

Leaving students send them to schools that, in many cases, already work with a high percentage of struggling students. Adding more is unfair.

Pollio is right: “Once you are accepted into a school, you become part of that school community. And if you don’t pass, the school has to make sure that they take care of that student’s success and offer the interventions and not expel the student.”

Internal magnet programs should be set up to eliminate “schools within schools,” which are discouraged by national experts and ignored for federal funding. And rightly so.

Magnet Schools of America asked JCPS in 2014 to eliminate these programs. Pollio agrees: “If it is to be a true magnetic school, it must be wall-to-wall, which means that every student experiences this type of education.

But Pollio stops short of including it in his proposal. The manufacture of internal wall-to-wall magnets must also be a priority of the JCPS school board.

Magnet Schools of America has also recommended that JCPS replicate several of its successful magnet schools or programs. Pollio’s recommendations would increase the number of seats for underrepresented students of color in the district’s top performing magnets, the JCPS Equity Review Committee found.

Following:Why Louisville Can’t (Or Won’t) Fix Its Elite Magnet Schools That Exclude Low-Income Kids

Both should happen. Increase seats for underrepresented populations and replicate successful programs to provide more opportunities. Making internal wall-to-wall magnets should naturally increase seating and help create more equitable access to these high-demand programs.

The school board has a responsibility to all children in this district and cannot be deterred by individual parents who demonstrate in the best interests of their child. We must do good for all children.

A history of inequalities in education

We understand how we got here.

After the racial segregation of schoolchildren was ruled unconstitutional in the 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, white families from Louisville and across the country fled to the suburbs, abandoning city schools rather than see their children mingle with black students. .

The bus was the central debate that led to a federal judge’s decision on July 30, 1975 to completely desegregate schools in the Louisville area, which was done a few weeks later with the goal that every school would have at less than 12% black students.

Some boycotted the first days of school. Some protested and threw stones at school buses. Others thought the bus for desegregation purposes would be a temporary solution. A 1972 Courier Journal editorial pointed out that civil rights leaders believed housing desegregation should be the focus.

The same editorial stated: “Many white commuters fear [bussing] because they suspect that their children might be forced to return to the cities they fled only a few years ago, to aging schools in run-down neighborhoods where their kids would be swallowed up in an ocean of darkness… The bus is a temporary means of an explicit national objective.

Except it wasn’t.

The community responds:Children are ‘left out’: readers say JCPS needs to change magnet programs. here’s how

The JCPS magnet programs were a middle ground, and in 1984 granted white families a way around bus transportation requirements to minimize white flight from the public school system. While the number of magnets reduced forced busing and avoided data for the benefit of white families, black students continued to be bussed without choice in the thousands. The temporary bus solution has become permanent for Families of Color – a clear statement of the concerns of who was, and still is, JCPS’ priority.

Almost 40 years later, the system is still broken. The Courier Journal revealed earlier this year how unfair bus protocols still are. The goals of integration continue to rest on the shoulders of an overburdened and underserved student body that should not have to shoulder this responsibility.

While the blame lies with Louisville and its failure to address systemic racism embedded in housing models, it also lies with the JCPS school board, which knowingly deepened inequalities through protocols that have been reviewed and advised against for decades. years. It is indefensible and unethical that the recommended changes have been largely ignored for so long.

Following:This could be the last bus stop at schools in Louisville. Was it worth it?

If you identify the issues and then decide not to do the work to provide quality education to all members of our community, then you are complicit.

If parents agree to take advantage of a system that harms other children, they are complicit.

If we agree to separate classrooms as a result of academic streams or internal magnetic programs, we are complicit.

There’s a racial reckoning going on in Louisville in the wake of the 2020 police killing of Breonna Taylor. City officials are making changes to move toward a more equitable city, and so is the business community. For JCPS, answering the call means correcting disparities in a student assignment system that has long hurt minority and low-income children.

Arnie Duncan, former United States Secretary of Education, put it this way: “Too often the difference between a life full of promise and a life in danger does not depend on the potential of a student but on the quality of the public school local. This means that Americans have a choice to make: whether we allow education to be a wedge that drives inequality or whether we will use its power, as Horace Mann envisioned, to create opportunity for all.

JCPS Board of Education, this is the choice you face. Do what is right for all students.

The Editorial Board of the Louisville Courier Journal.

Jeremy S. McLain