State Education Commissioner Terry Holliday advised the Fayette County school board recently that "if district support of low performing schools does not immediately improve, all options must be considered to narrow Fayette County's significant achievement gaps at the elementary, middle and school levels."
The state doesn't seem to think local school officials are as serious about closing the educational achievement gap as they say they are.
Just this week, acting Superintendent Marlene Helm said, "We must do better. We can't just talk about it. We have to do it."
And even the board set aside $620,000 to help low-performing schools, and another $15 for each student receiving free or reduced lunches.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
So we all ought to be applauding, right?
Fayette County education folks have a long history of saying the right thing about closing the achievement gap, and a similarly lengthy history of not doing it.
At a news conference May 26, Lexington NAACP president William Saunders said Fayette County schools are "beating around the bush and stalling like they've always done."
And that is exactly what Fayette County school officials have done for the most part.
In 1988, two Herald-Leader reporters wrote a series of stories about Lexington's racial problems. In one of the stories, then-Superintendent Ronald Walton said he was concerned about the lack of achievement of black students and that a committee had been formed to study the problem.
Helm, then an assistant to Walton, said more programs for "at risk" children would be put in place. "I think when you have the commitment, a deep true commitment, you can move," she said.
I agree. Maybe that is why we still have the same problems. Maybe there just isn't the "deep true commitment" that is needed to change things.
In 1997, then-Superintendent Peter Flynn told his top administrators to remain focused on helping disadvantaged children even though that objective was dropped from the board's annual goals.
"We know we can't have excellence unless we have all children learning what we want them to learn," he said.
In 1999, the Office of Education Accountability noted that the achievement gap first revealed in 1992 had not narrowed much by 1998. "This is an issue of serious concern for everyone," the director said.
In August of 1999, the local school board set another goal, this time to eliminate the gap by 2006.
In 2000, Superintendent Robin Fankhauser said closing the gap was the district's new focus. Other initiatives would go on the back burner until progress was seen. If that were true, things on that back burner should be quite cold by now.
In 2001, Jack Foster, one of the architects of the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA), said the gap "is of enough magnitude in the elementary schools that it constitutes an educational emergency and should demand immediate action."
Fayette County's response was, "He's pointing out the obvious. He's pointing out what we already know."
About 16 ministers, along with parents, community leaders, retired educators and activists, members of a "No Confidence, No Trust" rally, filed complaints with state and federal education departments, as well as the Kentucky Human Rights Commission.
A year later, One Community, One Voice, a blue-ribbon panel of educators, parents, teachers, government officials and business leaders, met to come up with ways to eliminate the gap. Then Mayor Pam Miller said, the community needed to take this problem seriously.
In 2004, Helm, then interim superintendent, said one of the biggest challenges facing this school district "is making sure that the public has confidence that we are focused on student achievement, that we are passionate about it and that we will do everything in our power to close the achievement gap."
In 2007, the third year of Stu Silberman's tenure as superintendent, some new programs and partnerships were forged.
Board member Larry Conner said at that time, "Is there need for improvement? Yes there is. Are we improving? Yes we are. Are we going fast enough? No we're not."
In 2009, even Silberman said the gap was unacceptable. "That keeps me up at night," he said.
By 2011, when Silberman resigned, the gaps had narrowed but were still unacceptable. "I wish I was making the announcement that all achievement gaps were closed," he said. "There is a difference between narrowing and closing."
In 2014, the gap had widened again.
And so here we are, more than a quarter century after the achievement gap was first noted in this newspaper and we have done little more than talk about it.
"They can talk all they want to talk, but if they haven't done it, we don't need to pick that person," Roy Woods, chairman of the Equity Council, said last year.
If history is an indicator of the future, that is exactly what we will end up with in Fayette County.
That is a very sad and embarrassing history.