KY ranks among states for racial equality in education

Here's how Kentucky ranked in this ranking of the best states of 2022 for racial equality in education.

Here’s how Kentucky ranked in this ranking of the best states of 2022 for racial equality in education.

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Kentucky ranked 9th in the nation for racial equality in education in a June 7 WalletHub list, overtaking the US average for all six metrics included in the study. But there is still progress to be made, according to a dean at the University of Kentucky.

WalletHub’s 2022 Best States for Racial Equality in Education compared black and white performance in terms of the proportion of adults with a high school or bachelor’s degree, standardized test scores, mean SAT and ACT scores, and public high school graduation rate.

The federal government ranks 9th for the proportion of adults with high school diplomas and 12th for adults with bachelor’s degrees. WalletHub gave Kentucky 15th place for standardized test scores, 9th place for SAT scores, and 12th place for ACT scores.

Kentucky was near the middle of the field, ranking 20th on racial disparity in public high school graduation rates.

Here are WalletHub’s top 25 overall rankings for Racial Equality in Education:

  1. Wyoming

  2. West Virginia

  3. New Mexico

  4. Idaho

  5. Montana

  6. Oklahoma

  7. Texas

  8. Arizona

  9. Kentucky

  10. Tennessee

  11. Hawaii

  12. Delaware

  13. Arkansas

  14. Maine

  15. New Hampshire

  16. Georgia

  17. North Dakota

  18. Vermont

  19. Alabama

  20. Mississippi

  21. Nevada

  22. Alaska

  23. Washington

  24. Oregon

  25. North Carolina

How Can Schools in Kentucky Be Fairer?

While the Commonwealth scores better than much of the country on this list, UK College of Education Dean Julian Vasquez Heilig said more needs to be done in Kentucky and the US to promote racial equality in education.

In particular, Vasquez Heilig said that schools have a “knowledge disconnection” problem by restricting more advanced curriculum opportunities to children from wealthier families.

“And the thing is, none of this is a mistake. Because everyone knows: the nicer the house you buy, the nicer the school. It’s like the elephant in the room,” Vasquez Heilig said. “We know that’s how our country works and that we will intentionally only offer opportunities to certain students.”

Another issue that contributes to racial inequality in education is funding discrepancies. Vasquez Heilig cited a study by EdBuild, a temporary organization that “worked to bring common sense and fairness to the way states fund public schools.”

EdBuild closed in June 2020, but its data is still available online. In the study referenced in the WalletHub and Vasquez Heilig article, EdBuild said mostly white school districts receive $23 billion more than mostly non-white schools, despite serving the same number of students.

One solution to the unequal funding of education is to create standards based on how much education actually costs per student and appropriate them based on that calculation, Vasquez Heilig said. This would be more efficient than current methods, in which schools work backwards from the number provided by the legislature.

“I think one of the big problems is that while education reform for the last 20 years has said it’s focused on equity, especially for low-income and African-American students, it’s actually been trying to monetize education,” Vasquez Heilig said.

The policy monetizes education by basing funding on test scores, Vasquez Heilig said, and also pays for privately managed schools.

Rather than focusing on the possible monetization of schools, Vasquez Heilig said reform should focus on community-based solutions. One example is community-based accountability, where residents gather to set goals and hold themselves accountable for meeting those metrics.

Incentive-based accountability is another important solution schools could implement, Vasquez Heilig said.

Currently, low test scores or missed metrics by a district are penalized with the removal of opportunities, Vasquez Heilig said. A better approach might be to reward schools that meet community-set goals with additional funding.

“When incentives are on the table, a district can grab those incentives and know they can fund the things that matter, additional dual-credit courses, additional pre-algebra classes in middle school, etc.,” Vasquez said Holy.

Vasquez Heilig said that standardized test scores should not be used as the sole metric to assess a student’s ability. Just as many professions are based on portfolios rather than an exam, it’s best to look at more about a student than their performance in a single day of testing.

He added that no single measure will fully demonstrate a student’s ability to be successful and that a variety of factors should be considered.

“And I think that’s the future of education. I think that should be the future of college admissions, where we look at a variety of metrics and weigh much, much less how a student is doing on a given test on a given day on a limited set of questions,” said Vasquez Heilig.

Have a question about training in Kentucky for our service journalism team? We would like to hear from you. Complete our Know Your Kentucky form or email ask@herald-leader.com.

Meredith Howard is a service journalist with the Belleville News-Democrat. She is a graduate of Baylor University and previously worked as a freelancer for the Illinois Times and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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