Kentucky ranked 9th in the nation for racial equality in education in a June 7 WalletHub list, pulling ahead of the U.S. average for all six metrics included in the study. But there’s still progress to be made, according to a dean from the University of Kentucky.
WalletHub’s 2022 Best States for Racial Equality in Education compared performances of Black and White populations on the share of adults with a high school diploma or bachelor’s degree, standardized test scores, mean SAT and ACT scores and public high school graduation rate.
The commonwealth got 9th place for the portion of adults with a high school education and 12th place for adults with a bachelor’s degree. WalletHub gave Kentucky a 15th place ranking for standardized test scores, 9th place for SAT scores and 12th for ACT scores.
Kentucky was closer to the middle of the pack for racial discrepancies in public high school graduation rates, with a 20th place ranking.
Here’s WalletHub’s top 25 overall placements for racial equality in education:
How can Kentucky schools become more equitable?
While the commonwealth performed better than much of the country in this list, UK College of Education Dean Julian Vasquez Heilig said there is still more work to be done in Kentucky and across the U.S. to promote racial equality in education.
Specifically, Vasquez Heilig said schools have a problem with “segregating knowledge” by limiting more advanced curriculum opportunities to children from wealthier families.
“And the thing is, is that none of this is by mistake. Because everyone knows that the nicer home you buy, the nicer school you get. It’s like the elephant in the room,” Vasquez Heilig said. “We know that our country operates this way and that we are on purpose going to only offer opportunities to certain students.”
Another issue contributing to racial inequality in education is funding discrepancies. Vasquez Heilig referred to a study by EdBuild, an organization formed on a limited-term basis that “worked to bring common sense and fairness to the way states fund public schools.”
EdBuild closed in June 2020, but its data are still available online. In the study referenced in WalletHub’s article and by Vasquez Heilig, EdBuild said primarily White school districts receive $23 billion more than primarily non-White schools, despite serving the same number of students.
One solution to inequitable funding in education is to create standards based on how much education actually costs per student and appropriating based on that calculation, Vasquez Heilig said. This would be more efficient than current methods where schools work backward from the number legislators produce.
“I think one of the big issues is that education reform over the last 20 years has, while saying they’re focused on equity, especially for low-income and for African American students, what they’ve really sought to do is monetize education,” Vasquez Heilig said.
Policy monetizes education by basing funding on test scores, Vasquez Heilig said, along with paying for privately managed schools.
Rather than honing in on potential monetization of schools, Vasquez Heilig said reform should focus on community-based solutions. One example is community-based accountability, where residents gather together to set goals and hold themselves accountable to meet those metrics.
Incentive-based accountability is another important solution schools could implement, Vasquez Heilig said.
Currently, a district’s low test scores or missed metrics are punished by the removal of opportunities, Vasquez Heilig said. A better approach might be rewarding schools that meet community-set goals with additional funding.
“When incentives are on the table, a district can reach for those incentives and they know that they can fund the things that are important, extra dual credit courses, additional pre-algebra courses in middle school, et cetera,” Vasquez Heilig said.
Vasquez Heilig said standardized test scores should not be used as a single metric to evaluate a student’s abilities. Just like many professions are based on portfolios rather than an exam, it’s best to look at more about a student than their performance on a single test day.
He added that no one measure will completely showcase a student’s ability to be successful, and that a variety of factors should be considered.
“And I think that’s the future in education. I believe that should be the future in college admissions, where we look at a variety of metrics and weigh much, much less how a student scores on a particular test on a particular day on a limited number of questions,” Vasquez Heilig said.
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