Race-Based Student Goals Prompt Controversy in South Florida

Karen Yi, Sun Sentinel, October 11, 2012

Florida’s public school students will be judged in part by race and ethnicity, under new education benchmarks approved this week.

And that has created a firestorm in South Florida.

Opponents say setting higher goals for whites and Asians and lower goals for Latino and black groups is insulting and feeds racial stereotypes.

“All children should be held to high standards and for them to say that for African-Americans the goal is below other students is unacceptable,” said Patrick Franklin, president and CEO of the Urban League of Palm Beach County.

The State Board of Education on Tuesday approved its strategic plan that in part sets different reading and math targets for students according to their heritages.

Cheryl Etters, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Education, said the disparate numbers are not meant to lower expectations but rather set “realistic and attainable” goals.

“Of course we want every student to be successful,” Etters said. “But we do have to take into account their starting point.”

According to the plan, by 2018, the state wants 90 percent of Asian students, 88 percent of white, 81 percent of Hispanics and 74 percent of blacks to be at or above reading grade level.

The state also wants 86 percent of white students, 92 percent of Asians, 80 percent of Hispanics and 74 percent of blacks to be at or above their math grade level.


Broward school board member Donna Korn said expectations should be equal across the board.


She was also concerned the strategic plan could affect the state’s issuance of school grades. “We’ll start looking at race when we’re scoring our schools. That’s not appropriate.”

But state officials said the race-based goals would not factor into school grades; schools will only be evaluated for the performance of students as a whole.

Winnie Tang, president of the Asian American Federation of Florida, said the benchmarks are also hurtful to Asians.

“We still have a lot of students who are average and below average. Being [perceived as] a higher achiever really hurts a lot of students,” she said.


While 69 percent of white students are currently at reading level, only 38 percent of black students and 53 percent of Hispanic students meet the same standard.

The goals call for a 19 percent boost in reading levels for whites by 2018 but a 36 percent spike for blacks.

“There is an achievement gap and we’re working really hard to close that,” Etters said.


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