This week the Florida Board of Education set academic achievement goals based on race and ethnicity.
The idea didn't initially sit well with board members, who questioned why they wouldn't seek the same results from all students. After all, the state has long operated on the philosophy that all students can learn.
State education officials reminded the board that these were aspirational goals based on current performance, and not intended to discount the overall desire that every student excel. Most recently, 38 percent of black students scored at grade level on the reading FCAT, for instance, compared to 76 percent of Asians. Are both groups really going to be in the same place within five years?
“We have to be realistic,” board member Kathleen Shanahan acknowledged, eventually supporting the plan.
Still, as in Virginia, which recently also adopted race-based goals, Florida already is feeling the heat from minority group leaders.
The Sun-Sentinel reports that south Florida activists from across the spectrum are complaining that the State Board does their children no service with its effort. Even Broward superintendent Robert Runcie criticized the move as perpetuating an already broken system.
"Why do we want to perpetuate what's going on today?" Runcie said to the Sun-Sentinel. "The reality we have today is not the reality that we want to see tomorrow."
What to make of all this? Most everyone has agreed that eliminating the achievement gap among groups of students is a noble goal. It's clear that some groups are starting at a lower point than others. Would it be reasonable to say that the black students with their 38 percent passing rate should be at the same 90 percent as expected of the Asian students, who are starting at 76 percent, within five years?
Does setting a higher expectation for whites and Asians make it easier to ignore the fact that some students in those groups also struggle? Should we just lump everyone together and say no child will be left behind? If so, then what happens when the larger groups obscure the results of the smaller ones — the very problem that everyone wanted to overcome in the first place?