Florida’s Department of Education has released a new strategic plan for public schools and Florida colleges for 2012 through 2018. The plan was approved on Tuesday, Oct. 9 and has been met with mountains of criticism from various sources. Why the complaints? This strategic plan will be judging the achievement of public school students partially based on race and ethnicity. I feel that this sort of bias is unacceptable, and it gives the impression that a person’s academic success depends on their race, which I find very insulting.
According to the plan, the Florida Board of Education expects 90 percent of Asian students, 88 percent of white students, 81 percent of Hispanic students and 74 percent of black students to be at or above grade level in reading by 2018. The expectations for mathematics are for 92 percent of Asian students, 86 percent of white students, 80 percent of Hispanic students and 74 percent of black students to be scoring at or above grade level in 2018.
There may be serious repercussions from these numbers. It is as if educators are telling Hispanic and black students that they are not capable of achieving the same level of success as white or Asian students, which will most likely result in many of those students refusing to strive for anything beyond that bracket. For high-achieving students in those minorities, it may seem like a slap in the face, as if educators are reinforcing the racial gap. It also tells white and Asian students that they’re are expected to do better, but only to such an extent, which may leave those students unwilling to strive above the state’s goal. However, the consequence that scares me the most is the way it will affect the framework between students from the different ethnic groups. It may result in strain between students of different races and spark academic segregation in achievement programs.
This disparity has already sparked arguments between board members and disappointment from parents. Patrick Franklin, president and CEO of the Urban League of Palm Beach County, told the Sun-Sentinel, “All children should be held to high standards and for them to say that for African Americans the goal is below other students is unacceptable.” And according to WJXX TV, board member John Padget said, “If Asians can have a goal of 90 percent in reading, why can’t whites and other subcategories? So I would just ask my fellow board members if we are happy with the signal this sends.” I agree that these differences in expectations are intolerable and send the wrong messages to Florida parents and students.
According to USA Today, board members who supported the strategic plan argued that the numbers they are seeking in all categories would be an improvement over current levels, despite the fact that, statistically, each racial group is not expected to improve at the same rate. Board member Kathleen Shanahan told the Sun-Sentinel, “We need to be realistic in our ability to impact those [different racial groups] at the same degree.” And the Sun-Sentinel also reported that Cheryl Etters, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education, stated the disparate numbers are not intended to lower expectations but to set “realistic and attainable” goals, because “of course we want every student to be successful, but we do have to take into account their starting point.” Shanahan and Etters make reasonable points, but I have to argue that it is giving the impression of lower standards. I also must state that there is a larger problem presented by this plan than judging improvement based on racial groups.
The fact that the expectations are lower for certain minorities is upsetting, but the disparity between the rates at which the groups are to improve is more unsettling. Asian students are expected to increase 10 to 14 percent, white students 18 to 19 percent, Hispanic students 25 to 28 percent, black students 34 to 36 percent, economically disadvantaged students 26 to 30 percent and disabled students 40 to 49 percent. The expectations on this note are opposite of those from before. Lower scoring groups are expected to improve at a rate almost twice that of the other students. I would like to know how the Board of Education plans to explain this. Are there going to be special services provided for students in groups that are expecting higher levels of improvement?
I understand that academic success and progress can be a sticky subject, because every student has different abilities and needs but I believe that it is unacceptable to split them into aptitude groups based on a social construct such as race or ethnicity. I also feel that it is unacceptable to expect different groups of students to make larger leaps than others. It may appear necessary in order to close these perceived gaps in education, but it is only going to end up in pushing schools farther and farther behind when they cannot meet the standards.
Elaina Zintl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org