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Race-based academic goals will reinforce inequalities

Published: Sunday, October 14, 2012

Updated: Sunday, October 14, 2012 23:10

The stereotype that Asians are good at math — along with other even more detrimental ones — should be stopped by education leaders, not propagated.

The Florida Board of Education’s approval of race-based academic goals last week serves to further wedge apart, rather than close, inequality gaps in the state.

According to the state board’s strategic plan, the state would like to see 90 percent of Asian, 88 percent of white, 82 percent of American Indian, 81 percent of Hispanic and 74 percent of black students reading at or above grade level by 2018, and 92 percent of Asian, 86 percent of white, 81 percent of American Indian, 80 percent of Hispanic and 74 percent of black students performing math at or above grade level.

Backers of the plan state that the goals are based on existing performance metrics in the state. Currently, 76 percent of Asian, 69 percent white, 55 percent American Indian, 53 percent Hispanic and 38 percent black students read at or above grade level, and 82 percent of Asian, 68 percent of white, 58 percent of American Indian, 55 percent of Hispanic and 40 percent of black students perform math at or above grade level.

But there’s a bigger problem: According to a report by the Center for American Progress, the median weekly earnings in 2011 for Asians was $877, for whites $744, for Latinos $549 and for blacks $674.

Education has long been viewed as a great equalizer, able to close margins of socioeconomic inequality that have left communities, like black and Latino communities, with higher rates of unemployment, lower wages and a lower standard of living in the U.S.

For the Board of Education, which comprises six white members, one Hispanic member and one Asian Indian member, to say it is OK for a smaller percentage of black students than Asian students to meet a set standard is an injustice to all that only contributes to social inequality by grouping students into racial categories and expecting less of certain groups.

Rather than changing its future “goals” to match the set of statistics it faces, the board needs to think about how to change its strategy in allocating resources to best serve communities that aren’t performing at the standards the board is setting.

Though the board claims that by setting these goals it is taking into account “starting points” for all students, by the very definition of a “goal,” the board should set standards to improve academic performance, not reinforce systemic societal problems.

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