October 17, 2012

Setting academic achievement goals based on skin color is a “race” to the bottom of educational policy

By Setting academic achievement goals based on skin color is a “race” to the bottom of educational policy

Individuals should not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.  Most children learn that famous line from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at an early age.  Unfortunately, children in Florida public schools are going to learn a very different lesson by 2018.

This month, the Florida Department of Education approved a strategic plan that establishes different academic achievement goals for K-12 students based on race.  The document references particular goals such as the Department’s priority of “increasing the percentage of students performing at or above grade level on statewide … assessments” and “reduc[ing] the achievement gap.”  In the strategic plan, students are divided into racial groups for analyzing their test scores in different subjects.  The racial groups are then assigned specific race-based achievement “goals” to meet within the next six years. Florida set race-specific reading goals for 2017-2018:  American-Indian 82%, Asian 90%, Black 74%, Hispanic 81%, and White 88%.  [Percentage that should be reading at or above grade level.]

If the goal is to raise test scores, the goal should be 100% for all children.  Period.  Florida’s plan implies that students of some races will be institutionally viewed and taught differently than students from other races – a concept uncomfortably reminiscent of the historical stain of segregated classrooms on American education.  The initiative implies that some students cannot succeed because their racial group will generally underperform compared to others; or alternatively, that no matter how hard students of a certain race try, they will never achieve the academic excellence of other races. These concepts should be offensive to people of all races.

Some might argue that the real problem stems not from Florida’s strategic plan, but from the current educational system. One article notes that a chairwoman defended the plan by arguing that racial goals are necessary to comply with terms of a waiver that Florida received for the federal No Child Left Behind Act. A solution to this problem stems from reevaluating federal and state educational programs and changing the system itself, not by telling children that their races will determine their scholastic success, or that students of different skin colors will be held to different academic standards.  Every student is different, with different talents, interests and learning styles. One way to recognize this is to institute more school choice measures that allow parents to choose the best school for their children.  PLF has supported the rights of parents in directing their children’s education in many cases.

Teachers can lecture about equality during the school day, but actions speak louder than words.  It would be hypocritical and frankly, unacceptable, to teach children that Dr. King’s dream was nice in theory, but that they will only perform as well as the color of their skin “allows.”  Only when schools actually focus on the content of individual students’ characters and abilities will Dr. King’s dream be a reality in the classroom.

What to read next