The Florida State Board of Education passed a plan that sets goals for students in math and reading based upon their race.The Florida Board of Education is between a rock and a hard place. They can hold all students to the same uniform standards of educational achievement and thereby set a large share of minority students up for almost certain failure as they find themselves generally unable to compete academically with members of other groups. Or they can recognize that not all groups, as groups, have the same academic potential, establish accomodations for that fact, and be branded racists for their trouble.
On Tuesday, 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, reported the Palm Beach Post.
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.
“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.”
Others in the community agreed with Lopez’s assessment. But the Florida Department of Education said the goals recognize that not every group is starting from the same point and are meant to be ambitious but realistic.
As an example, the percentage of white students scoring at or above grade level (as measured by whether they scored a 3 or higher on the reading FCAT) was 69 percent in 2011-2012, according to the state. For black students, it was 38 percent, and for Hispanics, it was 53 percent.
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.
Either course will lead to stratified schools and an equally stratified society for years to come as academically accomplished whites and Asians continue to rise to the top and academically challenged minorities sink toward the bottom.
Although I sympathize with those who wish to help minority kids succeed by facing up to the realities of racial disparities, I think such policies will only lead us back to some form of segregation. Better to hold all kids to the same expectations so that those who can meet those challenges will have the same opportunities to succeed in their life's work as members of other groups. Academic race-norming will only stigmatize the achievements of those who are genuinely capable and reinforce the reluctance of employers to hire minorities for jobs that they'll be afraid the applicant hasn't been prepared to handle.
Stratification may be an insoluble problem but at least we should keep the standards high for those who have the wherewithal to transcend it.