Friday, July 15, 2011

Gubernatorial Candidate David Williams: Shut down Jefferson County Board of Education

Taking a cue from other large cities like New York and San Diego, Kentucky Senate President/Candidate for Governor David Williams is calling for a shut down of the Jefferson County Board of Education and transfer of power over schools to the mayor of Louisville.

It’s a dramatic proposal, but something better needs to happen in the Louisville school system, where a huge proportion of the state’s lowest performing schools are found and where dropouts and poor academic performance are an everyday fact of life.

Jefferson County is overloaded with some of the poorest performing schools in Kentucky. Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) reports show that 13 of the state’s current total of 22 Persistently Low-Achieving Schools – 59 percent – are found in Jefferson County.

That is way out of line with the district’s share of all the students in Kentucky’s public school system. An annual KDE report on Growth Factor/Ethnic Membership in all school districts shows Jefferson County’s 2010-11 school year fall membership included 95,176 students, while statewide the total number of students was 654,997. Thus, while this lone district has only 14.5 percent of the state’s students, it has 59 percent of the state’s highest problem schools.

There are many other problems in this troubled school system, such as low high school graduation rates, especially for children of color, and poor academic performance in other schools besides the Persistently Low-Achievers. We cover that information in our reports on “How Blacks and Whites Perform in Jefferson County” and “Examining Kentucky’s ‘No Child Left Behind’ Tier 5 Schools” and in our long-running series in this blog (just search on the term “busing” to find) about the deplorable school bus plan in the district. That busing plan, which is now hugely controversial in Louisville, routinely and unnecessarily forces five-year-olds on bus rides over an hour, one way, with multiple bus exchanges enroute.

Clearly, something is going very wrong in Jefferson County for a very significant number of the district’s students.

David Williams apparently understands that.

Meanwhile, when asked about the Williams proposal, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear said, "Kentucky's local school systems have worked well for years with locally-elected boards of education, directly responsible to the people of that area."

Clearly, the governor must be uninformed about what is really happening in Jefferson County.

Also lost in the governor’s comment is the fact that Kentucky has a history under KERA of moving in when local school districts don’t do their jobs well.

KERA itself was aimed in no small measure at low-performing school districts in Eastern Kentucky that had become virtual family fiefdoms – places where patronage was far more important than the education of children. Under KERA, those school districts had all sorts of power taken away by people who lived much farther away from them than David Williams does from Jefferson County.

You see, while local control is often a good thing, when something is really wrong, where you live has nothing to do with whether or not you are able to understand the issues and have a desire to make things better.

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