Like Florida, Virginia Takes Heat for Its Race-Based Education Goals

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.



About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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7 Responses to Like Florida, Virginia Takes Heat for Its Race-Based Education Goals

  1. Jupiter Mom says:

    The “race” goals were very disturbing to me. There is a dramatic difference between aiming for high expectations and punishment for not meeting a certain level on a test. When we set goals for children, we ought to set those goals recognizing that children learn at varying rates/abilities and to recognize that this is not linear. It’s stop and go. We can keep high level goals in place. But when/if that level is not met- instead of holding kids back, firing teachers and closing down schools, we ought to look at why it was not met. Testing is a time for checking in to see how learning is going and then to readjust the program. It’s not a time to say “if this goal is not met- heads will roll”. The motivation to set these racial goals is a matter of an attempt to minimize this “heads will roll” punishment. But truly- it’s the wrong way to go. Instead of racial goals- let’s get rid of the high stakes part and use the scores to inform instruction.

    • SAW says:

      @Jupiter Mom
      Absolutely correct. I ponder the full implementation of such systems where achievement is manipulated based upon (of all things) race! This has the stench of the arguments / justification for segregation but far more covertly wrapped around honorable intent. Our kids are competing in the Global (Worldwide, Finland, Korea, Singapore….) arena and remediation via some synthetic standard is not only an affront to all Virginians (all races), it is a regressive and inane. I agree with standards but global competition from US students can only be achieved by more rigorous and clearly defined standards with corresponding goals/objective points. Finally, as a culture we must reevaluate and redefine that education is not a right but a privilege. This is a major difference between schools in our country and schools systems which regularly outperform with far less financial resources.

      • Jupiter Mom says:

        Education is a right and should absolutely continue to be a right to all our children. If education becomes a priviledge, with all that implies, then you have an illiterate nation. We do not want to go back to that. We have a very high literacy rate- and that is due to our education for all philosophy. The key to having increased motivation and seriousness about education is by relevancy and poverty. If a teen sees their education as relevant to their abilities and interests, they will be more dedicated. If we can get the 20 -25% of children out of poverty, we’ll see an improvement as well. When you limit opportunity to attend school- that means there are children who are not learning. I think we want all our children to learn.

  2. Diane Kepus says:

    Bob – would you please e-mail me at I need to ask you a question!

  3. K.Swinney says:

    Here’s a question that need answering…. why are these minorities not able to make the “grade” ?
    I have come to the conclusion that this question has a simple answer…. kids today simply don’t care. My mother-in-law taught high school English for over 50 years but she finally retired this year. She finally retired because ” these kids don’t care about anything, and they are not afraid of nothing and nobody, I am done ! ” The kids don’t want to be there, they want everything given to them, you know, the you owe attitude. A middle school science teacher said.. “kids today can’t think their way out of a paper bag with the instructions written on the inside. These kinds of comments are very telling. Our education system is broken. This race-based achievement goals sounds insulting to those minorities — it’s saying — you are not as smart as the asian and white kids — but these minorities especially the blacks do not score well on these tests. So what’s the problem, why don’t they score as well ? Part of the problem maybe cultural. In the Asian culture, education is pushed, it’s extremely important and is encouraged by the parents…. parental involved. In the black culture education is not a focus, and there’s not a lot of parental involvement – so their performance is not very good.
    Education is a right, a right that should be earned not given. Yes, every child has a right to an eduation but not every child needs the same education. Our schools should only have students in them that want to be there. If a student will not do the work, will not behave , etc… then kick them out. — Their attitudes and bad behavior are desruptive in the classroom and takes away from those who truly wants to learn academics.. It’s time to weed out these kids, instead of trying to force them to learn academics,,,, put them in a trade school or apprenticeship, stop wasting our public school teachers time. and the kid’s time. Everyone is getting an education not just the same kind.

    • Jupiter Mom says:

      I can understand your feelings on this K. Swinney. However, your race based generalizations do nothing to solve the problems in education. First of all, notice that your attitudes and conclusions are based on your mother’s and your experiences with students. That’s anecdotal information. Anecdotal information can deceive us to the truth. Studies that look at a large sampling of information (not just 2 people’s views but hundreds) find that it’s poverty that is the key. Low socioeconomic level to be more precise. This is different that being low on dollars. A larger percentage of minorities comprises this group. In other words, a greater percent of the African-American population is in this group than as a percent of the caucasian population. I say this, risking sounding condescending, because as a country, we need to decide if we are going to use data and science to make policy decisions or if we are going to continue to elect people who have no knowledge or skills in ed policy – but did sit in a classroom or have a parent as a teacher- to make decisions based on these anecdotal experiences. The latter is what we have thus been doing. And that’s why we have an overreliance on testing as a means to teach. You are right though that we need more tech training programs for the uninitiated. But what about making learning more the responsibility of the child? What about taking out all the boring teaching to the test (including the ever fascinating lesson of bubbling in scantron forms)? What about looking to see how we can teach AND motivate curiousity and creativity? There are ways. We ignore them though because we have policy makers who have no clue- except what it was like when they sat in a classroom.

  4. The African Immigrant says:

    What about African immigrants, and people from the Caribbean? Why are we grouped together with Native born Black Americans.There are also biracial students?

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