Commission on Human Rights
Human Rights Commission gathers experts to discuss school integration
“It doesn’t magically occur that if you mix classrooms, students will all perform the same and achievement gaps will close, but it does assure those students will all have the same resources to be able to achieve,” said Sherron Jackson, assistant vice-president of Finance and Equal Opportunity for the Council on Postsecondary Education.
Jackson was one of three panelists at a May 15 panel presented by the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights.
Fellow panelists Dr. J. Blaine Hudson, dean of Arts and Sciences at the University of Louisville, and Pat Todd, executive director for Student Assignment, Health, Safety, and the Gheens Professional Development Academy said that integrated classrooms help student grades.
“We know from Department of Education national data that when classrooms segregate again, student performance goes down, especially for those kids with the greatest needs,” Hudson said. Students with greatest needs include students from low income households, students with disabilities, minority students, and students who speak English as a second language, says the Kentucky Department of Education.
“Students in integrated classrooms are outperforming their peers,” Todd said. One of her jobs is to help assign students to Jefferson County public schools.
Another important benefit of integrated and diverse classrooms is the socialization process that occurs, Jackson said. “When they are together, students of different cultures and backgrounds learn how to deal with each other, and this prepares them for their careers and successful adaptation to society,” he said.
“Achievement gaps continue in Kentucky schools, and since the Supreme Court last year eliminated the use of race as a primary factor for integrating classrooms, some experts and parents in Kentucky are concerned achievement gaps will widen,” said John Johnson, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights.
“Is Equal Education in Kentucky a Dream, Deferred?” was the third in a series of Kentucky Commission on Human Rights Citizen Advocacy Hearings. The free-to-the-public panel discussion was held on Thursday, May 15, at the Louisville Urban League headquarters in downtown Louisville. Forty people attended.
Among the findings of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education on the current state of African American student access in colleges and universities are the following: In Kentucky, African American (AA) enrollment increased to 8.3 percent in 2006 from an average of 7 percent in prior years; the 8.3 percent AA enrollment has exceeded every year since 1982 the 7.3 percent of AA people represented in the Kentucky population; and, the share of bachelor’s degrees awarded black students increased from 4.4 percent in 1979-80 to 6.5 percent in 2005-06.
In high schools, the Education Trust Inc., an education watch group, says the Kentucky “on-time” graduation rate in 2003 was 54 percent for black students and 71 percent for white students.
Achievement gaps closed by half in the 1970s and 80s, says the National Education Association, but the national trend has started to reflect a slight widening of the gaps since the 90s.
In 2005, Kentucky black middle school students were still more than 15 percent behind their peers in proficiency for reading and mathematics, said a recent report by the Kentucky Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
However, the same study also said its researchers found the achievement gap is not about race but about poverty. “It is poverty as measured by [students who receive] free and reduced lunches that the researchers conclude is the determining factor,” the study said.
The study cited a discovery that the success of schools throughout the nation in closing achievement gaps was largely due to the social programs and supports they provided for children in poverty.
These successful schools used “extra supports for children of poverty [including] programs such as free health care, free vision care and eyeglasses, greater social services and counseling support…,” the study said.
The achievement gap between black and white students in Kentucky is not as wide as the national average, said Dr. Hudson. “African American students in Kentucky tend to score higher than African American students, nationally, and Kentucky white students tend to score lower than white students, nationally,” he said.
The achievement gap is defined by the U.S. Department of Education as "a persistent, pervasive, and significant disparity in educational achievement and attainment among groups of students as determined by a standardized measure.”
When analyzed according to race and ethnicity, achievement gaps negatively impact educational outcomes for poor and children of color on a consistent basis, the Kentucky Department of Education says.
In order to close achievement gaps, “the main factor is that we have to be strategic and intentional about what we’re doing,” Hudson said.
Working to close achievement gaps and integrate classrooms has to be aimed at by legislators, educators, parents and businesses on purpose, Todd agreed. “That’s a large part of the battle,” she said.
“More than half a century ago, the Supreme Court ruled on the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision that our nation’s schools must be integrated; today, despite substantial progress and admirable efforts, the full promise of that decision has yet to be fulfilled.” These remarks by U.S. Congressman John Yarmuth were read at his request at the panel discussion.
Dr. Hudson said the state and local governments have to commit more money than they currently do to guarantee quality education for Kentucky students. Also, schools in neighborhoods with fewer resources have to be closely observed to ensure teachers are teaching at equal quality levels, officials have to ensure schools in lower income neighborhoods have the same resources as schools in higher income neighborhoods, and college tuition has to become low enough so that every student who so desires can access college, he said.
“Kentucky has to break the cycle and invest in the availability of quality education for our students,” Hudson said. “Saying that we can’t because Kentucky is a poor state is not an excuse, and this only guarantees that Kentucky will remain a poor state,” he said. “Other states have done it, and we need to commit to it,” he said.
The commission is conducting the citizen advocacy hearing series to help address a variety of issues that concern minorities, women, people with disabilities, older Americans and others who are protected by laws against discrimination.
The June hearing on Native American Kentuckians will broadcast live on WFPL radio (89.3) in Louisville from 11 a.m. to noon, Thursday, June 19.