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Gov. Scott Enters Fray Over Race-Based Ed Goals

The Florida Board of Education’s five-year plan sets academic goals for students based on race and ethnicity. The move has drawn criticism from education stakeholders across the state and the country. Now Governor Rick Scott has entered the fray by suggesting that the board change its plan.

“When looking at those measurements, an achievement gap still exists between different groups of students in our state.  Such a gap is unacceptable. The actions taken last week by the State Board of Education in adopting their strategic plan did not clearly articulate our shared commitment to fully close that achievement gap for all students, regardless of race, geography, gender or other circumstance," Scott said in a statement released Tuesday.

“With this in mind, I would ask the board to more completely incorporate this recognition into its strategic plan so that we can focus our efforts on helping every student to achieve the highest level of success.”

Scott's position opposing the plan is the exact opposite of State Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand, who earlier in the day released his own statement backing the goals.

We have to acknowledge that there are different starting points among groups of students today. We can only close the achievement gap in Florida if we are willing to have an honest conversation about what it will take to get all students to that level of success," Chartrand said.

He went on to add that, "Absent this kind of measurement focus, the achievement gap between African American students and white students in Florida was only reduced by five percentage points between 2001 and 2010. By clearly outlining that all students are capable of performing on grade level and understanding what we will need to do to move them towards that goal, we can make sure that every student in Florida is prepared for success in college and careers. The measurements will ensure that we are on track and can close the gap faster. To be clear, the interim targets will not determine our success; the absence of an achievement gap will.”

The state's plan calls for  86 percent of white students being able to test at grade level in math by 2018, but only 74-percent of black students to be on grade level by the same time. According to the Florida Department of Education, 68 percent of white students and 40 percent of black students are currently on grade level.

The state's education goals have drawn criticism from many who say the plan implies that one group of students is academically inferior to another, but it's also won support from a national education advocacy group, the Education Trust, which is heavily involved in minority learning issues.

“The journey to justice is a long, hard one — and we won’t get where we need to go overnight. But the achievement goals that Florida has established are the right next step for the state and for all of its students, especially for its students of color,” said the Education Trust's Amy Wilkins.

Meanwhile, Incoming Minority Leader Perry Thurston issued his own statement in response to the Governor.

“It is a favorable sign that Governor Scott has decided today to disavow himself from a highly controversial element of the Strategic Plan for public schools offered this month by the state Board of Education. I am hopeful that the Board of Education will re-craft the plan so that it seeks improved student performance across the board instead of one based on race and ethnicity. As I’ve stated before, it is simply wrong to imply that one race is academically inferior to another," he said

For more news updates, follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter @HatterLynn and Trimmel Gomes @TrimmelG 

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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