Solutions that don’t break the bank, reinvent the wheel or marginalize our teachers are within our grasp. We could have rigorous classes, safe and disciplined schools and treat teachers like valued colleagues rather than easily replaceable cogs, and we could do so tomorrow if we wanted. Disclaimer, this is an opinion and commentary site and should not be confused as a news site, and you should know that quite often people may disagree with the opinions posted herein.
Jeb Bush picked a bad time to engage in some freelance gloating.
The former governor wrote an op-ed piece last month for The Washington Times to point out how his educational reforms in Florida have led to such impressive gains by minority students that the state hasn’t had to resort to redefining success.
“Instead of merely adjusting expectations for different demographic groups, educators should set the same high standards for all children,” Bush wrote. “They then should adopt a plan that emphasizes the progress being made by all low performers, regardless of demographics. For more than a decade, Florida has taken this approach.”
A few weeks after Bush’s piece was published, Florida abandoned that approach. Like I said, bad timing.
Florida’s State Board of Education revised its strategic plan by acknowledging for the first time that its carrot-and-stick, high-stakes testing approach to education reform has left an achievement gap along racial and ethnic lines that’s too big to close in the next six years.
So rather than cling to the notion that all Florida public school students are being held to the same expectations, the state board has set goals for achievement based on race, ethnicity, economic standing, English language proficiency, and disabilities.
In six years, the goal for students reading at grade level is as follows: 90 percent for Asians, 88 percent of whites, 82 percent for American-Indians, 81 percent for Hispanics, 78 percent for the disabled, 74 percent for blacks, and 72 percent for the poor and those who have English as a second language. The math goals are similarly stratified.
Those goals, aren’t envisioned as an endpoint, but a marker of success on the way to getting all public school students to perform on grade level in 10 years.
Florida isn’t the first state to recalibrate its education goals this way. Bush, in his piece, had chided other states for doing it.
“You don’t close an achievement gap by institutionalizing it … ” he wrote. “As a nation, we have rejected police use of racial profiling on the streets. By what rationale do we now accept it from educators in the classroom?”
Bush held out Florida as an example of a state that didn’t need to adjust its expectations for minority achievement because of the annual testing he brought to the state.
“Traditionally, low-performing schools that produce strong learning gains are rewarded,” he wrote. “Florida’s A schools are represented in both the suburbs and inner cities. This policy rewards achievement and progress, without lowering the bar for students based on skin color, national origin or a parent’s salary level.”
But the numbers in this month’s strategic plan from the State Board of Education show a far less rosy picture.
After more than a decade of testing-based education reform in Florida’s public schools, only 38 percent of black students are reading at grade level. That’s far below Asian students (76 percent), white students (69 percent) and Hispanic students (51 percent).
So coming up with a goal of getting 74 percent of Florida’s black students to be on reading level would nearly double the success rate for those students in just six years. That’s not racial profiling. That’s magic.
And announcing that plan is less of an insult to those students and more of a belief in the existence of a transformative post-FCAT educational system yet to be unveiled.