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Kentucky Schools Becoming Less White, But Inequities Persist

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky's public schools are becoming less white, but black students still lag behind their white peers in reading and math proficiency according to an Associated Press analysis of more than a decade's worth of data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

In 2000, 68 percent of Kentucky's public schools were at least 90 percent white. But by 2014, 46 percent of schools were at least 90 percent white. Over that same time period, Kentucky's racial populations stayed roughly the same, with the number of white people decreasing by 2 percentage points while the number of black people increased by 1 percentage point, according to U.S. Census data.

Kentucky's population is 88 percent white and 8 percent black. That's why most of the state's school districts are overwhelmingly white. The exception is Louisville, the state's largest city. Its school district has more than 100,000 students making it one of the largest school districts in the country. It's also a majority minority district.

In 2000, 73 percent of Louisville schools were at least 50 percent white. But by 2014, that number had dropped to 47 percent. Meanwhile, the number of schools that were at least 50 percent black increased slightly, from 23 percent in 2000 to 25 percent in 2014. The number of majority black schools dipped to as low as 12 percent in 2005 before increasing again.

"In Jefferson County we have one of the most segregated housing patterns of any city in America," said Allison Gardner Martin, chief of communications for Jefferson County Public Schools. "The challenge always is when you look at schools how do you make schools diverse when you have housing patterns that are so segregated."

The district does this by a student assignment plan that doesn't always send students to the school closest to where they live. A  U.S. Supreme Court decision doesn't allow the district to include race in its assignment plan, but officials use other factors like free and reduced lunch "to have our schools help reflect the community that we live in," Martin said.

Still, the district has seen an increase in majority black schools recently, with some more than 90 percent black. Students at those schools tend to have worse reading and math proficiency scores than students who attend more diverse schools. For example, Western High School is 68 percent black. Between 15 percent and 19 percent of its students were proficient in math while between 25 percent and 29 percent were proficient in reading. By contract, Louisville Male High School is 62 percent white. Sixty-nine percent of its students were proficient in math while 75 percent were proficient in reading.

But even within diverse schools, minority students still tend to perform worse than their white peers. Statewide, black students are behind white students in reading, math, social studies, writing and language mechanics, according to the latest Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress test results.

Part of the problem could be teachers and staff have different expectations for black students, according to Bridgette Blom Ramsey, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. A recent study from the group found that in 2015, black students were suspended four times more often than white students and given in-school suspension three times more often than white students. Students of two or more races were suspended or removed twice as often as white students.

"That suggest possibly some difference in how those students are perceived and some bias possibly toward adult response to their behavior," she said.

Milton Seymore, a Louisville pastor and member of the Kentucky Board of Education, said one way to combat the problem would be to hire more minority teachers. The Prichard Committee says 95 percent of the state's teachers are white.

"I think you need to go into those areas and deliberately go after diversity," he said. "Non African-Americans may not understand what is going on."

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