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LONDON, Ky. — Teachers who believe black students can’t learn should quit their jobs, Kentucky’s education chief said. 

The frequently unspoken notion that poor and black children can’t learn is “sickening,” Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis told state education board members Thursday. 

“If you’re at a district or school that serves black children, and you say, or even worse, you believe these types of things, you should leave your job,” Lewis said. 

His comments come days after new state school accountability ratings landed 35 Jefferson County Public Schools in the lowest performing label. Many of those schools serve predominately poor and black students. 

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For subscribers: Now in its second year, is DuBois Academy serving black boys better than other schools?

Lewis, an African American man, began his traditional commissioner’s report to the board with four “lies” he has seen regarding the new school ratings. The “most insidious” of which is the idea black students simply can’t learn. 

An additional lie, he said, was that he designed the system to place more JCPS schools in the bottom 5% of schools. The system was largely designed by education stakeholders across the state. 

“Let me say, I don’t know how to do that,” Lewis told board members. 

It’s a lot more “sexy” to create conspiracies about how he is gaming the state’s school accountability system instead of focusing on ways to improve outcomes for disadvantaged students, he said. 

Black students lag behind their white peers, and poor students behind their more affluent peers, across the state and in JCPS. 

Read this: New Kentucky test scores show stark differences in JCPS schools’ achievement

The more poor students a school serves, the lower their test scores tend to be, a Courier Journal analysis found. Lewis acknowledged this correlation Monday, but said Thursday that high levels of student need cannot be an excuse for not improving performance. 

“There is no doubt that many of our schools … serve kids that come to our schools with significant challenges,” Lewis said. 

Kentucky needs to do a better job of keeping things that need to be handled at home or at outside agencies off of teachers’ plates, Lewis said. 

“To expect a school to erase the things a kid comes to school with is unreasonable — completely unreasonable,” Lewis said. “But to be OK with kids coming in with the challenges that they come with and we throw up our hands and believe that they can’t learn is unacceptable.” 

This story will be updated. 

Reach Olivia Krauth at okrauth@courierjournal.com or 502-582-4471, and on Twitter at @oliviakrauth. Support strong local journalism by subscribing: courier-journal.com/subscribe.

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