Florida to Grade Black Students on a Different Scale Than White Students?

Postracial America, we are not, second Obama term or no second term. From the kids tweeting insanely racist remarks about President Obama's victory, to Oklahoma's vote banning affirmative action, it's clear that racist attitudes remain prevalent for many Americans.

But the new education policy in Florida seems particularly emblematic of our far from post-racial landscape. The school board in Florida created a set of achievement goals that differ based on students' racial backgrounds. Rather than focusing solely on things like economic backgrounds, the board's choice to use race-based categories has attracted plenty of attention. The board of ed claims it is using the reality on the ground to combat the achievement gap, but the message the goals are sending has got many educators and parents crying foul:

The plan, which sets achievement targets to be met by 2018 based on each students’ race or ethnic background, has already encountered opposition from educators and activists across the state.

Juan Lopez, who is a magnet coordinator at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Riviera Beach, said that setting different standards for kids based on their background was “off base,” and an implication that it is race, above all, that determines the level of students’ achievement.

In other words, the state is fighting the achievement gap by acknowledging it openly, or as Cord Jefferson writes in an essay on affirmative action at Gawker:

In an effort to close the racial achievement gap that plagues much of America, the board decided to use that gap to set parameters for what it expects children of different races to achieve over the next six years. Breaking from George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind," which demanded uniform achievement goals for all students in an effort to avoid "soft bigotry," Florida is now going to have racially stratified educational targets in math and reading. In other words, black children performing more poorly than white children won't just be tolerated, it will be the rule.

Needless to say, some state-level activists are horrified by the message that these new goals seems to send to communities in Florida.

... Palm Beach County School Board vice-chairwoman Debra Robinson isn’t buying the rationale.

“I’m somewhere between complete and utter disgust and anger and disappointment with humanity,” Robinson told the Post. She said she has been receiving complaints from upset black and Hispanic parents since the state board took its action this week.

Robinson called the state board’s actions essentially “proclaiming racism” and said she wants Palm Beach County to continue to educate every child with the same expectations, regardless of race.

While numerical-based goals are important for school districts to get funding and function, these kinds of blowups are examples of the shortcomings of a numbers-based, testing-based approach. Yes, each child starts in a different place with different structural and personal advantages and disadvantages, and therefore his or her achievement should be taken in context rather than simplistically.

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