The presidential election suppressed what would otherwise have been a firestorm into a two-day ho-hum. The Florida Board of Education’s decision to sign off on race-based school goals was quickly brushed aside as it didn’t sell newspapers like presidential politics will. But its in the news again as another state which President Obama carried, Virginia, now has similar goals in place. Like Florida, Virginia is bound by Obama-Arne Duncan’s No Child Left Behind waivers. From NPR reporter Claudio Sanchez:
As part of Virginia’s waiver to opt out of mandates set out in the No Child Left Behind law, the state has created a controversial new set of education goals that are higher for white and Asian kids than for blacks, Latinos and students with disabilities.
Virginia Democratic state Sen. Donald McEachin first read about the state’s new performance goals for schoolchildren in a newspaper editorial.
“And I was shocked to find that the state board of education [was] putting in place permanent disparities between different subgroups — Asians at the top, African-Americans at the bottom,” says McEachin.
Here’s what the Virginia state board of education actually did. It looked at students’ test scores in reading and math and then proposed new passing rates. In math it set an acceptable passing rate at 82 percent for Asian students, 68 percent for whites, 52 percent for Latinos, 45 percent for blacks and 33 percent for kids with disabilities.
Alarmed by these numbers, McEachin and members of the Legislature’s black caucus denounced the new policy as a “backwards-looking scheme.”
“If we don’t demand the best of our children, we won’t receive the best,” says McEachin.
At a meeting of the state board of education in late September, Patricia Wright, Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction, defended the new policy.
“Rest assured, all of us hold all students to the same academic standards, but when it comes to measuring progress, we have to consider that students start at different points,” Wright said.
In a phone interview with NPR, Wright explained that Virginia’s expectation is that all students, regardless of race or ethnicity, will correctly answer the same number of questions to pass the state tests.
But the reality is that black and Latino children generally don’t do as well as white and Asian children, and that gap, says Wright, is what the new policy is meant to address by setting more modest goals for struggling minority children and giving them more time to catch up.
“The concept here is that if indeed within six years we can close the achievement gap between the lowest- and highest-performing schools — at least cut it in half — that would be acceptable progress,” says Wright.
Lost in all this is the fact that ed reformers no longer advance the “no excuses” mantra. Nor can Jeb Bush, who publicly called for Florida’s NCLB waiver, continue to beat public schools over the head with “every child can learn,” when his waiver admits to the difficult circumstances that black and latino kids face. So poverty does matter afterall, eh?
It is this theme which provided the fuel for Bush’s rise, and others like Michelle Rhee, as the final jurists on education policy. Such a stunning admission discredits Bush school grade gambit and Rhee’s 50 percent reliance on test data – the very basis for Florida’s SB736. Such a mea culpa ought to torpedo any Parent Trigger drama again as the very state board who would sit in final judgment on public school closures is admitting that poverty matters and that all schools cannot be considered differently.
Such realities are evidence that Florida doesn’t need a status quoer like Tony Bennett coming in and telling everybody that all is well when the people he would be working for on the state board have admitted that they aren’t.