8:00 am
Mon December 2, 2013

Hal Heiner: JCPS Equity Scorecard Results Are 'Unacceptable'

Jefferson County Public School officials and supporters are hoping a new report displaying student inequity will get the community more involved to help close achievement gaps parallel with the so-called Ninth Street Divide.

Kentucky Charter Schools Association Chair Hal Heiner

But one community leader argues the numbers should be a catalyst for elected leaders and others to open their minds up to alternative educational options for students who aren't being left behind in Louisville's public school system.

The JCPS 'equity scorecard' found that less than 35 percent of students from zip codes in west Louisville neighborhoods are college or career ready.

Nearly half of West End students read below grade level compared to just 15 percent of those who live the East End.

Former Louisville mayoral candidate Hal Heiner is a school reform advocate who now serves as chairman of the Kentucky Charter Schools Association. He says the geographic divide seen in academic achievement should be enough for all concerned with education to look at alternatives.

"You can draw a line down the center of this county and see those who are achieving and those who are being left behind. And for our community that's unacceptable."

"From the statistics we read in this report, you can't read them not just hurt for the kids in the next generation," he says. "Recently we learned that jobs by 2020 when some of the kids will be graduating, two out of three are going to take an education-level beyond high school. And what we read in this report is that often children in poverty by at least 2-to-1 are not ready."

The scorecard identifies the concentration of poverty as the chief culprit behind those stats, saying children from low-income areas face a "double jeopardy" in the classroom and their neighborhoods.

It finds the majority of JCPS  schools have either high to extreme poverty levels of poverty , and that 40 percent African-American students attend one of those more impoverished schools compared to just 21 percent of their white classmates.

JCPS has outlined few details in the report in regards to what the community should do, but its scorecard does call for improved health and social services, anti-poverty programs, "racial healing" and affordable housing policies.

Schools officials have told WFPL News residents can start by mentoring students, volunteering at public schools and donating needed materials.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer took a more aggressive tone, saying critics need to get off the sidelines and step up in order to "own the success of JCPS." The mayor's office did launch a new partnership with JCPS last month to increase parent involvement and business connections, but no additional funding or staffing is planned.

Others are holding out a guarded optimism in the face of the scorecard.

"Personally, I hope as a community we can rally around and partner with JCPS," says Joe Tolan, president and CEO of Metro United Way. "It doesn't mean don't be critical if we think there's legitimate criticism. Part of a health relationship is candor and honesty with one another. Do I think it's a perfect system? Of course I don't. But the current leadership is genuinely committed to reporting the reality and setting high bars for itself."

It's an going debate between those seeking to improve Louisville's troubled public school system and reformers who argue that options outside of JCPS are needed.

Those who favor charter schools have seen a pickup in support across a diverse set of views. And there was hope that the retirement of a state lawmaker in charge a House education committee would lead to possible reforms or at least the discussion.

JCPS critics point out this isn't the first call to action or plan school officials have touted asking for community input.

For Heiner, who is a rumored candidate for governor in 2015, this inequity report is another sign that something needs to give. He says going into the 2014 General Assembly, state lawmakers need to be reminded about reform efforts in states such as Tennessee that promote school choice.

"The power of the status quo in Jefferson County in particular and Kentucky as a whole is immense and overpowering," he says. "And it's just shocking to me that the leaders in education are not willing to try the education reforms that are working in cities and states all around us."

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