Setting Educational Goals By Race, Ethnicity is a Major Slide Backwards

In the name of academic improvement, lower expectations for minorities are institutitonalized.

Well-meaning bigotry is still bigotry.

Let’s backtrack.

Florida and Virginia are two of more than 30 states who were granted waivers to the federal No Child Left Behind program. As it stood, No Child Left Behind — President George W. Bush’s signature education legislation — relied too heavily on standardized test scores to measure school and teacher performance, focused too much on penalizing low-performing schools, forced an emphasis on math and science at the direct expense of other subjects and school programs, and drew an unrealistic plan for 100% student proficiency in math and science for all students by 2014, a goal we are nowhere near.

When President Obama failed to pass his own education bill to replace Bush’s, he began giving the states the option to opt out of the law. Released from the NCLB’s most restrictive and controversial portions, Virginia and Florida reset their goals, promising to narrow the achievement gap while setting a more realistic timeframe toward the ultimate goal of 100% proficiency for all students.

Commendable as these goals are, these two states have chosen a wrong path to meet these aims by differentiating the expectations for students by race and ethnicity. Florida, for example, outlined that by 2018, halfway into the scheme for universal subject proficiency, 74% of black students should be reading at grade level, while the goal for Hispanics is 81%. Meanwhile, 88% of whites and 90% of Asians are expected to reach grade-level reading ability.

Virginia is proposing a more egregious policy than Florida’s. This state wants to establish different passing rates for subject proficiency tests along the same lines. 82 % will pass an Asian student in a Virginia mathematics proficiency exam while Latinos will need to score 52%. Whites can pass at 68%, blacks will need 45%, and students with disabilities will require a score of 33%.

Just reading the descriptions of these proposals should be immediately troubling. The breakdown of classroom expectations by race, even if well-meaning and “realistic,” is both counterproductive and flies in the face of every effort and appeal for equal opportunity and achievement. Universal proficiency can be achieved by intensively addressing the needs of a diverse student population rather than surrendering to the poisonous idea that some students are destined to do better.

These policies may come out of a sincere desire in pushing for educational progress, but they also promote a soft bigotry by enshrining lowered expectations for minority and disabled students. It is one thing to admit that that certain groups of students achieve unequally, but it is quite another to perpetuate that condition by throwing in the towel and saying one race of students will progress slower than another in a classroom setting.


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