Rethinking racial targets in Florida's education strategic plan
There has been much hand wringing and complaining about the Florida Board of Education's decision to set academic achievement targets based on demographic groups, as required by the federal government to win an NCLB waiver.
Seeing that the goals aren't going away, as they're defended by officials, observers are beginning to come up with suggestions on how to make the best of them.
Education consultant Harold Kwalwasser, for one, writes in the Orlando Sentinel that the state should modify the objectives:
"So, how does one decide what to do? The answer lies in being smarter about the numbers than we are right now. First, lumping all whites, for example, in one group and all African-Americans in another is obvious over-simplification. It ignores the impact of socio-economics on kids' performance, which is a serious error. A school of middle-class African-American or Hispanic students is likely to do better than a school of lower-income whites, yet the bars are set without regard to the problem.
"Second, rather than trying to hold every school to one standard, and probably one set of consequences, we should take a different approach. Any school or teacher in the bottom 10 percent to 10 percent for two — or certainly three — years among schools or teachers with similar racial and socio-economic profiles should be targeted for a turnaround. That includes low-performing schools serving middle-class whites. Same with teachers."
The directors of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund has sent a letter around also looking for ways to take something positive out of the controversy:
"What is most troubling about the public discussion, however, is the lack of attention given to just how these goals will be reached. The interim and ultimate goals set by the State Board of Education call for our schools to close the achievement gap at a rate that is three times faster in the next five years than in the past five.
"If these unprecedented — and critically needed — advances are to be made, it will require a similarly unprecedented restructuring of how we educate children and far greater resources devoted to our schools.
"That means that as a community, a state and a nation we must engage in a deeper discussion of what these measures will look like, and how they will be accomplished."
Getting there requires the input of many more people, including educators, parents, civic leaders, businesspeople and students themselves. The JPEF, whose directors include State Board chairman Gary Chartrand, puts forth the question that bears repeating: What are you willing to do?