Fayette County Public Schools brought a nationally known author and educator to Lexington on Tuesday to help launch an effort to make Lexington schools more equitable.
Pedro Noguera, the Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University, was the keynote speaker at "The Convening," a daylong meeting of about 300 site-based council members, parents and community leaders organized by the school system.
Noguera said that while equitable education was key to helping all students succeed, many American schools still assign their most proficient teachers to academically advanced students, leaving less-skilled instructors to teach students who are struggling.
It's not surprising that such practices continue, Noguera said, even though logic suggests that less-advanced students could benefit from studying with distinguished teachers.
A prime reason, he said, is that advanced students typically have involved, college-educated parents who "demand the best." By comparison, struggling students usually have working-class parents who might not understand the inner workings of the local schools and are not comfortable advocating for their kids.
"It doesn't say anything about the potential of the students," Noguera said. "It says everything about the opportunities they have had."
According to Noguera, that's only one example of inequities running through the nation's educational system that essentially begin when children enroll. Too often, students are identified as having potential based on their background, while poorer children are identified as less promising. The second group tends to get the short end of the stick, he said.
"If we're not willing to confront this stuff," Noguera said, "it will never change."
Tuesday's meeting at Heritage Hall came one day after the Fayette Equity Council unveiled its 2013 Scorecard report, which showed that minority, low-income and disabled children in Fayette County rank well behind their classmates in reading, math, college and career readiness, graduation rate and other measures.
Fayette Superintendent Tom Shelton said planning for the The Convening began last fall, as a first step in a systematic effort to close achievement gaps in the district.
Shelton said he selected Noguera as keynote speaker for the meeting after hearing him in Washington last year.
The district invited site-based councils to the meeting, Shelton said, because they control most local-school decisions.
"They set the schedule for their school day and the curriculum they use; they hire the teaching staff and set the discipline code in their buildings," he said. "We need them to be full partners in this process. We can't do this just directing things from the district level."
Shelton said he hoped Tuesday's meeting would be a prelude to larger, community-wide discussions of school equity issues in the near future.
"We do see that coming," he said. "We need to engage students, families and the whole community because that's really the only way we're going to increase achievement."