The Florida Board of Education is using race to determine new goals for students, setting higher standards for Asian and white students than for Hispanic and black students.
The board’s new strategic plan calls for 90 percent of Asian students and 88 percent of white students to be reading at grade level or higher by 2018. The bar is lower for Hispanic students at 81 percent and black students at 74 percent.
The board said the goals are based on an equation involving how different races of students are performing. Sixty-nine percent of white students read at grade level, 53 percent of Hispanic students, and 38 percent of black students hit the mark.
Florida Rep. Alan B. Williams (D-Tallahassee) said the board needs to rethink its strategy.
“It is demoralizing," said Williams. “The Board of Education should probably go back to the drawing board as it relates to this and really get some more input from other constituencies.”
The message is not lost upon John Padget, who serves on the Board of Education.
“I’d just ask my fellow board members if we are happy with the signal that this sends,” said Padget.
But Florida Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart said only the six-year plan has goals based on race. By 2022, the board wants all students at 100 percent proficiency in reading and math.
“The board very clearly has a goal that 100 percent of our students will be proficient. It is in our mission, vision statement, and so when we look at that we have to look at where our students are right now," said Stewart.
Stewart also said students won’t notice a difference in the classroom, but critics say the message alone promotes division.
By 2018, the board wants large overall gains in math and reading. Only 57 percent of all Florida students currently read at their grade level and 58 percent are proficient in math. The board is raising the bar to 83 percent for reading and 82 for math.