Palm Beach, FL – The Florida State Board of Education has passed a plan that sets goals for students in math and reading based upon their race. Educators believe this will help minorities but many within the minority community see the plan as counterproductive.
The board passed a revised strategic plan that aims for 90 percent of Asian students, 88 percent of white students, 81 percent of Hispanics and 74 percent of black students to be reading at or above grade level by the year 2018. The plan also measures academic success by other groupings such as poverty and disabilities.
The plan has enraged numerous community activists in Palm Beach County and across the state. “To expect less from one demographic and more from another is just a little off-base,” said Juan Lopez, magnet coordinator at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Riviera Beach.
JFK Middle has a black student population of about 88 percent. “Our kids, although they come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, they still have the ability to learn,” Lopez said. “To dumb down the expectations for one group, that seems a little unfair.”
Though others in the community agree with Lopez’s assessment, the Florida Department of Education said the goals recognize that not every group is starting from the same point and are designed to be ambitious but realistic.
As an example, the percentage of white students scoring at or above grade level (as measured by whether they scored a 3 or higher on the reading FCAT) was 69 percent in 2011-2012, according to the state. For black students, it was 38 percent, and for Hispanics, it was 53 percent.
State Board of Education Chairwoman Kathleen Shanahan said that setting goals for different subgroups was necessary in order to comply with terms of a waiver that Florida and 32 other states have from provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The waivers were used to make some states independent from some federal regulations.
Palm Beach County School Board vice-chairwoman Debra Robinson doesn’t agree with Shanahan .“I’m somewhere between complete and utter disgust and anger and disappointment with humanity,” Robinson told the Palm Beach Post. She says she has been getting complaints from distraught 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.