Kentucky Narrows Graduation Gap Between Low- and High-Income Students

Report from Everyone Graduates Center examines what works

(Image: Chiang)

High school graduation rates for low-income students are, on average, 15 percentage points lower nationally than for their higher-income peers.

Not true in Kentucky.

“Kentucky is a state with rates of poverty that exceed the nation’s, but with graduation rates for low-income students that are its envy,” writes John M. Bridgeland, president and CEO of Civic Enterprises, and Robert Balfanz, director of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, in the foreword of a new study.

The two organizations released For All Kids: How Kentucky is Closing the High School Graduation Gap for Low-Income Students this week to provide insights to other states and districts working to close graduation gaps of all kinds.

Kentucky’s graduation gap between low-income students and their peers was just 1 percentage point in 2013 and 7 percentage points in 2014, showcasing “steady improvement since 2003.”

The report’s authors, Joanna Hornig Fox, Erin S. Ingram and Jennifer L. DePaoli, cite four factors that have contributed to the state’s progress “in an era of higher standards and at a time when the number of low-income students has dramatically risen.”

  1. Slow and steady wins the race. Kentucky’s been at this for more than 25 years. After the state supreme court found Kentucky’s public school funding system unconstitutional, legislators took a new look at education funding, governance, and curriculum.

The Kentucky Education Reform Act, passed in 1990, “kick-started the process of making school funding more equitable, providing increased support to struggling districts, improving data systems, and engaging parents and community in improving their local schools.”

But this work takes time and tenacity, the report notes. Without “steady, persistent and focused leadership and commitment to children and the state’s future, it is doubtful that the reforms that KERA began would have made such positive changes.”

To read more, go to America’s Promise Alliance.

  • Richard_Innes

    High school graduation rate comparisons are becoming one of the most disappointing examples of the questionable nature of too many education statistics.

    There are no standards between states regarding what is required to earn a diploma, so the numbers are not really comparable.

    Even worse, just within Kentucky the available data raise some serious questions about the validity of comparing graduation rates across school districts. For example:

    • Kentucky’s education regulations stipulate that Algebra II is a high school graduation requirement. So, how do you reconcile a reported high school graduation rate for 2015 of 88 percent with a proficiency rate on the state’s Algebra II End-of-Course exam that has never exceeded 40 percent over the past four years?

    • Kentucky says the goal of our schools is college and career readiness. So, how do we reconcile the fact that only about 66.9 percent of the 2015 high school graduates in Kentucky were able to meet at least one of the various methods that Kentucky uses to establish college and/or career readiness.

    Kentucky’s high school diploma should be a signal of at least minimal, uniform accomplishment. Given the statistics above, that clearly isn’t the case. And, thinking Kentucky really does outperform other states in this area may be one of the more serious educational misconceptions of all.

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