October 21 2012

Florida Officials Say Race-Based Standards Misunderstood

Vicki E. Alger

Earlier this month the Florida State Board of Education voted to set different reading and math goals according to students’ races, higher improvement targets for white and Asian students, and lower ones for black and Hispanic students.

States choosing to participate in the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program must halve their achievements gap by 2018, but since the gap varies depending on which student sub-groups are compared, different targets must be established, Florida officials insist. They also say that setting different targets now doesn’t mean they’ve jettisoned the ultimate goal of 100 percent proficiency for all—a goal all students in all states were supposed to reach by the next school year.

Florida, and virtually every other state, are nowhere near that milestone. That’s why so many states are scrambling for waivers. According to Education Week, 34 states have set new accountability plans, but just 8 of them do not set different targets for students based on their race: Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, South Carolina, and Oregon.

So here we are, approaching the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), now referred to as NCLB, which was supposed to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for disadvantaged students. The very act that was supposed to fix unequal opportunities has instead encouraged institutionalizing them.

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