Florida Board of Education Holds Minorities to Lower Standards

by Christopher Paslay

By 2018 in Florida, 74 percent of black students, 81 percent of Hispanics, 88 percent of white students and 90 percent of Asians should be reading at grade level.

In their controversial book The Bell Curve, the late Harvard professor Richard J. Herrnstein and American Enterprise Institute Bradley Fellow Charles Murray wrote about the ethnic differences in cognitive ability:

In discussing IQ tests, for example, the black mean is commonly given as 85, the white mean as 100, and the standard deviation as 15.  But the differences observed in any given study seldom conform exactly to one standard deviation. . . . A total of 156 studies are represented in the plot, and the mean B/W difference is 1.08 standard deviations, or about 16 IQ points.

In a nutshell, Herrnstein and Murray used 70 years worth of cognitive tests to conclude that Asians have an average IQ of 105, that whites have an average IQ of 100, that Latinos have an average IQ of 90, and that blacks have an average IQ of 85; these findings led many to accuse Herrnstein and Murray of practicing scientific racism.

It appears, at least at first glance, that the Florida Board of Education is embracing such racism by holding minority students to lower standards in reading than Asians and whites.

According to The New York Times:

In Florida, halving the achievement gap means that by 2018, 72 percent of low-income children, 74 percent of black students, 81 percent of Hispanics, 88 percent of white students and 90 percent of Asians should be reading at grade level. The projected gains would be larger for those on the lower end of the scale.

“This is a snapshot of roughly halfway through that 10-year mark,” said the Florida education commissioner, Pam Stewart. “The 100 percent is the ultimate goal, and that is stated within the strategic plan.”

But parent advocacy groups, and some school board presidents and superintendents, said establishing lower goals for black and Hispanic students sends a disturbing message that those students are not as capable as others.

“Setting goals on skin color implies it somehow affects what is being measured,” said Melissa J. Erickson, president of Fund Education Now, a parent-driven advocacy organization in a letter sent Wednesday to the federal Department of Education. “I believe our nation long ago abandoned this type of view.”

Superintendents also say there is an element of uncertainty in the targets because the state will introduce a new national assessment in two years.

“We have no idea how students will perform or how individual subgroups will differ in their performance,” said the Miami-Dade County schools superintendent, Alberto M. Carvalho, calling it “unthinkable” that the state would set these goals at this time.

But Florida is not alone in setting interim goals by race and other categories. An analysis this week by Education Week found that of the 34 states with new accountability plans, only 8 set the same targets for all students.

So much for the motto “high expectations for all.”

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