Last week the Florida State Board of Education (FLSBE) unveiled their 2018 academic goals for K-12 students, and set off an uproar. Not because the goals were thought to be unachievable, but because the achievement expectations are differentiated by ethnicity. The article discussing the new goals features a table with the current and desired student achievement levels in reading and math, drawn from the official report.
To the Board’s credit, they are looking to significantly raise the the achievement level of some traditionally under-performing groups, and the new goals are all roughly in the same neighborhood, but the Board has received vocal criticism for apparently institutionalizing racism. The current rankings for grade-level achievement (numbers are the average of reading and math percentages) are Asian(79), White(69), American Indian(57), Hispanic(54), and Black(39). None of these numbers are anything to be proud of, but the percentage of Indian, Hispanic, and Black students performing at grade level is downright abysmal. The proposed grade-level achievement numbers for 2018 are Asian(91), White(87), American Indian(82), Hispanic(81), and Black(74).
Supporters of the plan point out that the new goals require the largest increase in performance from the lowest performing groups. That’s true, but the fact remains that academic expectations are determined by the color of one’s paint job. In the Comments section of the article, one person cites IQ testing revealing differences in intellectual capability by ethnicity. This may be an allusion to the 1994 book The Bell Curve, in which the authors analyzed mountains of data, including long-term longitudinal studies. Their conclusion was that there were indeed measurable differences in average IQ among ethnic groups, in exactly the same order given in the FLSBE goals. The book earned the authors comparisons to Mengele and Davenport, as well as accusations of furthering a racist agenda.
The article also gives an example of the sort of top-down, command & control thinking that permeates Big Education. One Amy Wilkins is quoted as saying that the new goals will force schools
” . . . to finally and quite deliberately focus more attention and resources on them (under-achieving minorities). “
I’ve talked about this mind-set before, and how it does nothing to encourage student achievement, while in a very real sense discourages student motivation. Remembering the Third Rule of Management, we know that motivation must ultimately come from within. A good leader can provide inspiration and set goals, but the individual is the one that has to perform; horses and water and such.
By codifying race-based expectations, the FLSBE is setting students up for failure. Human nature will cause those from whom more is expected to, on some level, think of those ranked lower as inferior. Those from whom less is expected will come to see themselves as less capable. The differentiation of expectations by race brings out the very worst in people. Any time a Black/Hispanic/Indian person meets with hardship, how easy to just say “I’m a minority; I can’t be expected to do as well as a White/Asian.” Or if a White/Asian does well, you can bet that someone else will be thinking “They’re White/Asian, of course they’ll do well/get the breaks/etc.” It’s divisive and poisonous, and like so many Bad Ideas, promulgated by people who think they’re acting compassionately.
Why not just set the bar equally for everyone? If the FLSBE wants to gradually raise achievement levels, would it have really been so hard to require that, say, 80% of students perform at grade-level by 2018? The article does mention that race-based results are required by the Federal Dept. of Education, which is yet another reason that Department should be abolished. One does wonder, however, if the FLSBE couldn’t have just used the same number for every ethnic category.