As a teacher, my goal is always to set high expectations for all my students.
So I was horrified to read that last month, the State Board of Education in Florida approved a new set of student achievement goals for math and reading that differ, depending upon the student’s race, ethnic background and other characteristics.
I am not the only one shocked and dismayed by this action; the plan, which sets its target date as 2018, has produced a huge outcry of opposition from educators and activists across the state.
In case you too are incredulous and outraged, here are the exact details, from Education News:
The board passed a revised strategic plan that says that by 2018, it wants 90 percent of Asian students, 88 percent of white students, 81 percent of Hispanics and 74 percent of black students to be reading at or above grade level. For math, the goals are 92 percent of Asian kids to be proficient, whites at 86 percent, Hispanics at 80 percent and blacks at 74 percent. It also measures by other groupings, such as poverty and disabilities.
And here’s the explanation that follows:
The policy is an acknowledgment that due to the achievement gap between black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian peers, they would have a much higher mountain to climb to meet achievement metrics that were uniform across all racial and ethnic groups. Last year, for example, while 69% of white students tested at grade level on the reading FCAT, less than 40% of black students met the same standard. While the picture isn’t as bleak for Hispanic kids, of whom 53% were at grade level, they still lag their white classmates by more than 15%.
So, instead of trying to close the racial achievement gap which, in spite of its flaws, the No Child Left Behind Act set out to do, the board decided to use that gap to set goals for what it expects children of different races to achieve over the next six years. Rather than fighting the racism evident in educational achievement gaps, Florida is throwing up its hands and deciding that from now on, black children performing more poorly than Asian children will be the accepted rule, rather than an educational problem.
What does this mean for teachers? Should they create differing grading scales based on the color of their students’ skin? That could get pretty complicated: I currently teach classes with white, Hispanic, Asian, and Pacific Islander students. So do I have to come up with four different rubrics for each assignment?
Worse yet is the idea that race is the sole determining factor of how a child will achieve. Didn’t we expose and throw out that idea, most famously promulgated by Arthur Jensen in 1969, when he defended studies showing whites scored an average of 15 points higher than blacks on standard IQ tests, and that this gap was largely due to genetic differences between the two groups?
And much, much worse is the black child’s understanding that she or he is stupid: that to be born black means you are inferior to every other race, at least according to the Florida Board of Education.
How are Florida educators responding? From CBS News:
The plan has infuriated many community activists in Palm Beach County and across the state.
“To expect less from one demographic and more from another is just a little off-base,” Juan Lopez, magnet coordinator at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Riviera Beach, told the Palm Beach Post.
JFK Middle has a black student population of about 88 percent.
“Our kids, although they come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, they still have the ability to learn,” Lopez said. “To dumb down the expectations for one group, that seems a little unfair.”
In response to this, the Florida Department of Education has stated that their policy simply acknowledges the fact that not everyone begins their education equipped with the same set of tools. The Department believes that the goals set out by this policy are very ambitious for all races, but scaled in a realistic way.
Thankfully, not everyone agrees. From CBS News:
Palm Beach County School Board vice-chairwoman Debra Robinson isn’t buying the rationale.
“I’m somewhere between complete and utter disgust and anger and disappointment with humanity,” Robinson told the Post. She said she has been receiving complaints from upset black and Hispanic parents since the state board took its action this week.
Robinson called the state board’s actions essentially “proclaiming racism” and said she wants Palm Beach County to continue to educate every child with the same expectations, regardless of race.
What do you think?
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