Education goals based on race
Bar set lower for Hispanic, black students
Published: Sunday, October 21, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 09:10
On Oct. 9, Florida’s State Board of Education approved a strategic plan that sets different goals for student academic performance based on race and socio-economic standing, and sets a separate bar for English language learners and students with disabilities.
The measure has sparked controversy because of the subgroup division by ethnicity. It is being argued that students’ performances are more dependent on their socio-economic status than their ethnicity and that every student deserves to be held to the highest standards.
“It’s nurture, not nature,” said Phillip Santos, an industrial engineering senior at UCF.
He said that children are born with a certain skin color, but that it is the social and economic circumstances they face while growing up that determine their performance in school.
The goal of the strategic plan is to have 90 percent of Asian students scoring at or above grade level in reading, compared to 88 percent of white, 81 percent of Hispanic and 74 percent of African American children by 2018. Similar goals were set for 72 percent of economically disadvantaged children, 72 percent of English Language Learners and 78 percent of students with disabilities.
“Shouldn’t they just want everybody to be literate?” said Leah Kaplan, a philosophy and literature senior at UCF. She said that underprivileged neighborhoods need more resources and better teachers, and that the measures will allow educators to strive for a “bare minimum.”
According to the Board of Education, only 38 percent of African American students are currently meeting academic standards in reading, compared to 53 percent of Hispanics, 69 percent of white and 76 percent of Asian students. The subgroups of students who are currently performing poorly are expected to have a faster pace of improvement in order to reach the six-year goals.
“Typically, the underachieving students don’t have parents who take the time to read to them or help them with homework. This kind of scenario usually occurs in the lower-class households where the parents are working more than one job or may even not see school as a top priority,” said Jillian Johnson, a senior elementary education major. “It has nothing to do with race.”
The approved strategic plan, available on the Board of Education’s website, states that the strategies and tactics by which the new academic achievement standards will be reached are not specified. The document states that they will be drafted on a supplemental document.
“I personally feel sorry for the students out there who hear of this plan and realize that our government is just another figure telling them that they aren’t able to achieve the same as everyone else,” Johnson said.
Approximately 2.6 million students are enrolled in the state’s 4,200 public schools. In the 2010-2011 academic year, 39 percent of students lived in single-parent households and 22 percent lived in poverty, according to the Kids Count Data Center.
“There are a lot more black and Hispanic families that are in poverty, so I think that is the connection they are trying to find: how much your money helps your chances at passing academic trials, but it really shouldn’t come down to that,” said Corey McGhee, a senior criminal justice major.
The state’s strategic plan is based upon revised measures of student progress, which come after the state received, in February, a federal flexibility waiver from certain aspects of the No Child Left Behind Act, including the requirement of 100 percent of students achieving proficiency by 2014.
Political science professor Aubrey Jewett said that the plan could be perceived as a boost to teachers and schools that have large minority populations, because Florida evaluates educators based on their students’ success on standardized tests.
“It basically can take them from being perceived as schools that are not achieving the passing scores to schools that are, because the standards that are set are going to be lower,” he said.
The current performance indicators of teachers and principals haven’t been defined. The draft of the plan states that the goals will be determined when more than one year of data is available.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the flexibility waiver allows states to “design locally tailored interventions to help students achieve instead of one-size-fits-all remedies prescribed at the federal level.” In total, 26 states have requested the waiver and similar strategic plans to the one recently approved by Florida have been accepted in Virginia and the District of Columbia.
“The best ideas to meet the needs of individual students are going to come from the local level,” Arne Duncan, U.S. secretary of education, said in a press release. “These plans will protect children, raise the bar and give states the freedom to implement reform that improve student achievement.”
The goals set by Florida’s strategic plan for year 2017-2018 aim to cut the percentage of students who are performing below their grade level by half. It was approved as an interim goal to achieve 100 percent proficiency of all students by the academic year 2023.
“Imagine if some professor would try to do it at the classroom level. It would not only be controversial, but held to be unfair and illegal. At the individual level nobody would ever think to do that. At the system-wide level, though, clearly the board thinks it’s a good idea,” Jewett said.