Friday, October 12, 2012

Race-Based Academic Goals


Florida is under fire along with a few other states for adopting race-based goals for academic achievement. These goals are a part of these states' waivers for the No Child Left Behind Act. Many are interpreting this as setting lower standards for minority students.


This rule adopted in many other states receiving waivers is the direct result of the failure of No Child Left Behind. This law mandates that 100% of students will be proficient in reading and math by 2014. That is literally impossible for all racial groups, let alone groups who struggle. As a result of this,  states have been clamoring for ways to exempt themselves from such damaging and unrealistic mandates. As I did in a previous post, let's see if this is type of progress is expected in other fields:

  • Salesmen: Are you expected to make a sale to every client (100%) in order to be effective?
  • Entertainers: Are you expected to pass every audition (100%) to be effective?
  • Lawyers: Are you expected to win every case (100%) to be effective?
  • Athletes: Are you expected to win every game (100%) in order to be effective?
  • Doctors: Are you expected to heal every illness (100%) in order to be effective?
  • Military: Are you expected to win every battle without deaths (100%) in order to be effective?
  • Journalists: Are you expected to have every reader in your market (100%) read your articles?

Of course no other profession expects 100% success in order to be considered good!
This categorization by race is not new. No Child Left Behind makes schools accountable for the progress of students based on race/ethnicity and other factors. The progress of subgroups (black, hispanic, free-reduced lunch, ESOL, etc.) will make or break a school's status. Florida's school grade program includes many of these factors in its evaluation as well. I once read a commenter on an education article state that her child's school does not seem to care about her white, middle-class child. Well, I believe that is an unintended consequence of No Child Left Behind. Though the school should be working in the best interests of all students, the students who impact the school's rating by the federal law or state accountability system will get the most attention.

As a result of No Child Left Behind's unreasonable demands, states submitted waivers to be exempt from the law. From what I've read about this rule, I don't see it as lowering standards. Let's say that we are trying to get two groups to 80% passing this school year. If one group is currently at 45% and another group is at 74%, don't you think it will be incredibly more difficult to get that 45% group up by the end of this school year than the 74% group, regardless if this 45% group is a race/ethnicity or people who wear purple everyday? I think this waiver is just setting a more reasonable trajectory of improvement for these groups. As one online article commenter suggested, perhaps it would have been better to make these goals based on socioeconomic status instead of race. However, No Child Left Behind did not do that.

Again, if it is a raging success in the business world for someone to go from 45% success in whatever area to 60%, why can't that same logic be applied to education? It's interesting how people bash public schools for apparently perpetuating self-esteem over the reality that not everyone is "special" and everyone has different abilities and talents, yet they expect all public school teachers to increase their students' test scores 100% of the time and for 100% of students to pass. 

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