THE ORLANDO SENTINEL/November 27, 2012
Kathleen Oropeza | Guest columnist
It’s been 58 years since Brown v. Board of Education desegregated public schools. In a single moment, “separate but equal” was no longer the law of the land.
The Florida Board of Education’s 2012-18 Strategic Plan sets up separate educational tracks, where some children are expected to be proficient and others are allowed to hover below grade-level expectations. Despite this, the board will claim its system to be a success.
The board’s plan states that “90 percent of Asian students, 88 percent of white students, 82 percent of Native American students, 81 percent of Hispanics students and 74 percent of African-American students will be reading at or above grade level” by 2018.
What the board did is bad for children. This latest No Child Left Behind waiver scheme is another cowardly effort by the board to manipulate data to help its members escape accountability. Since Florida is not even close to the 100 percent proficiency required by NCLB, the board was forced to seek relief for itself and apply for a waiver.
There is no “relief” from NCLB for Florida’s children, schools or teachers. There’s no change to the ever-increasing high-stakes tests. The only thing these new race-based goals do is acknowledge that it’s easier to let a quarter of our children fail in our public education system than tackle the hard work and expense of helping them to do better.
Addressing substantial differences in student achievement is not easy. But deciding that certain children should spend six years — half their time in public school — and never achieve proficiency is immoral. Instead, schools could start by using current data to customize targeted interventions designed to give every child the opportunity to succeed.
There is value in examining the performances of subgroups. Breaking down data in this way is meant to prevent large numbers of children in any group from failing. The guidelines for the waiver state that Florida must set “separate measurable annual objectives for continuous and substantial improvement” for each group of children sorted by a number of identifying factors including race, ethnicity, economic disadvantage and English language proficiency. It does not mention establishing acceptable losses based on race.
If the board wanted to impact student proficiency, members would persuade Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature to invest in proven methods. Portfolio assessments as an alternative to high-stakes tests and Individualized Education Plans for students both have a significant impact on grade-level performance, but both require skilled staff that has been depleted by budget cuts.
School social workers, guidance counselors and support staff that connect children and families with supportive services significantly improve achievement — but have also fallen victim to shortsighted budget cuts.
Florida board members have used race-based goals to codify an “acceptable” achievement gap, thinking that by merely acknowledging the gap, they have absolved themselves of all NCLB accountability.
These race-based goals benefit the system, not the child. They allow the board to ignore the children who need the most help. It’s not that the children stuck in their race-based categories cannot learn; it’s that the board has given up. Its members are waving the white flag of surrender. The board is not closing the gap; it is just moving it.
Our children deserve more than another round of the same old Florida Board of Education excuses for why students of a particular racial and ethnic background are being deliberately left behind.