Florida's Race-Based Education Goals Draw Outrage and Applause

Oct 12, 2012

The Florida Board of Education’s five-year plan sets academic goals for students based on race and ethnicity, and the move has drawn criticism from education stakeholders across the state.

“Florida needs a strategic vision for our schools that puts public education first. Students, parents and educators deserve a plan centered around Florida’s constitutional guarantee of a high-quality system of free public schools, and not just another attempt to privatize fundamental responsibilities,” said state House minority leader Perry Thurston.

“An appropriate vision should focus on improving student performance across the board instead of one based on race and ethnicity. It is inappropriate to suggest, as the Board of Education has implied, that one race is academically inferior to another,” he said in a statement.

In a conference call earlier in the week, interim state education commissioner Pam Stewart defended the state’s position. She says the goals are aimed at reducing the existing achievement gap and that the department expects all students to be on the same level ten years from now.

Longtime U.S Senator and former state Governor Bob Graham even addressed the issue. He said the state has a responsibility to help all children reach their maximum potential.

“As we know, education is not just a function of what happens in the classroom, it’s a function of what happens in all of the aspects that affect child development,” Graham said when he was asked about the state’s education plan.

But not everyone has taken a dim view on Florida’s education goals. The Washington D.C.-based education lobby group, the Ed Trust, which advocates for low-income and minority students, has come out in support of Florida’s plan.

“As the mother of an African-American fifth grader, I am more impatient than most for change on behalf of the students who for too long have gotten far too little of what our schools have to offer. But I also recognize that quick fixes and lofty promises that make adults feel good have failed black, brown and poor children for generations,” wrote The Ed Trust’s Amy Wilkins in a letter to editor.

“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.”

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