A new strategic plan approved for Florida’s public schools, which includes proficiency goals based on students’ race, has been met with some controversy in the past weeks with opposition claiming that these goals stunt graduation and retention rates.
The plan, approved by the Florida State Board of Education earlier this month, is aimed at closing the achievement gap between different subgroups of students and includes performance goals based on the race and economic status of students.
For example, the plan sets a goal of 92 percent of Asian students being proficient in math, while only aiming for 74 percent of African-American students and 78 percent of economically disadvantaged students to achieve that same level.
Proponents of the plan argue that a group-specific approach is justified in light of the considerable achievement gap between subgroups of students in Florida schools. The plan points out that currently only 40 percent of African-American students are at or above grade level in math, compared to almost double the number among Asian students.
Additionally, reading scores are also greatly disproportionate, with Asian and white students 10 percent apart compared to Hispanic and African-American students which are substantially lower.
It is believed by supporters of the plan that with such goals in place, all students in Florida’s public schools will be at grade level in reading and math by 2022.
Keeping track of the performance of students in categories arranged by race and economic standing is nothing new. The No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to report on how such groups of students are performing already.
Scott Spitzer, Ph.D., a political science professor at California State Fullerton, said requesting such information from schools is an important part of tackling the issue of the achievement gap that does appear between different groups of students.
“In order for us to address a problem, we need to be able to identify where we are at now, and be able to track progress, and the only way to do that is to measure it,” said Spitzer. “If you just hide your head in the sand and say, ‘Oh, we don’t want to pay attention to race,’ then you’re never going to address the problem.”
Spitzer predicted this plan will likely not fly politically, due to the fact that it comes across to many members of the public as an attempt to racially stratify the public education system.
Sofia Herrera, 18, a theatre education major, said she believes it is wrong to racially categorize students at all when it comes to education.
“Just because I’m Hispanic doesn’t mean I’m dumber than anybody else,” said Herrera. “There’s some kids that are lazier than the others—maybe they just need a little push. They don’t need their standards to be lower just so they can stay at their level.”
Raul Perez, 21, a biology major, said that Florida crossed the line when they released a plan setting different racial groups at different levels.
“It’s crossing the line when you set a goal, and it’s so much lower for African Americans and Hispanics than for Asians,” said Perez.
Perez noted that even in California, as a Hispanic, he was made to take a test to ensure that he was at a correct English level from elementary through high school, despite going to school in the United States for his entire life and being in honor and AP classes.
Florida is seeking a waiver to avoid penalties from not meeting the standards of the No Child Left Behind Act. Proponents of the new strategic plan say that these race-specific goals are necessary for the waiver.