By Earl Perkins, Thursday Review Contributing Writer
The Florida Board of Education needs to help discover better ways of educating children in the Sunshine State. Following Virginia’s lead, Florida recently unanimously approved a strategic plan concerning student achievement goals for the next six years.
When it comes to test scores, Florida’s education analysts and experts say African-Americans have been at the bottom, with Asians at the top, and whites and Latinos somewhere in the middle. So in a highly controversial—and morally questionable—decision the Board set standards which are based entirely upon student ethnicity and skin color. The Board’s sweeping mandate requires that certain races achieve specific markers for improvement by the year 2018: 88% of white students are supposed to meet the minimum reading and writing standards; 74% for black students; 90% for Asian students; and 81% for Latino students. Similar race-variable goals have been set for math as well.
Some critics of the plan suggest that such lumping of students by ethnicity will distort the immediate goals of teachers and schools, while others say bluntly that such a sliding scale is overtly racist and insulting.
But in the end will these measures bring about real improvement? And how are teachers and school administrators supposed to implement these goals?
Ultimately, almost everybody knows that what is really at stake is whether students pass minimum standards tests at the end of each year. Local school boards understand this; school administrators understand it. And teachers know that their future employment will certainly come into play if they can't cause scores to rise.
No wonder Atlanta schools recently had the largest cheating scandal ever, with teachers giving answers to thousands of students. And it came as no shock to some that New York’s much-advertised improvement in student test results turned out to be the result of school administrators and teachers simply lowering the minimum grade required to pass a test, coupled with making the tests easier for all students. New York schools chief Joel Klein, until last year a hero in the media for the improvements, was forced to resign in the wake of the scandal.
But will setting unique standards for each racial group bring actual improvement? Former Florida governor Jeb Bush called the Florida Board’s new sliding standard abhorrent, and he questioned any mandate that requires less from one group of students, and more from another, based entirely on race.
These are individual students with families, and every one of them is different. Each child needs to be helped as an individual, not just pushed on through the system. Some parents complain when their kids grow up and can't get a decent job because they can't read, but those kids should already be reading by the time they reach school. Many adults just find things they'd rather do than raise their children. They won't admit that all they really expected was a glorified babysitting service, and then they're unhappy about the results.
Some parents have good jobs and insulate their children from bad things; others have no job, coupled with drug and alcohol problems.
Many people making decisions about education in this country can afford to send their children to private schools. They know there are guns in public schools and that their children are constantly being beaten up. Until we start acknowledging the problems, there will be no improvement.
What about proposals to pay bonuses for the better teachers. Well, ask yourself who would decide which teachers are to be rewarded? Those teachers reaping the financial rewards would almost certainly be those who suck up to the administrators, and this would immediately eliminate union leaders and those who spend all their time teaching.
Maybe we should just put all students in uniforms and expect improvement on a daily basis. When was the last time you heard what a sorry education you get from a private school? The parents usually have to pay hard-earned money to send students there, so you can bet they make sure homework is being done before playtime. School should not be a place to hang out with friends, deal in drugs or figure out where the best parties are going to be on the weekend.
Companies want to hire workers who work hard, read well and work well with others. It's like the National Football League. They don't care if you're black or white; they just want winners on their team.
Most parents are trying to raise their children well, but there are so many hurdles. Television and advertising are sucking money from wallets everywhere, with adults desperately trying to keep up with how others live. Being careful with your money and not wasting time in dangerous situations are considered boring behaviors. Nothing is more feared by young people than boredom. And adults aren't much better.
But you can bet your bottom dollar I'd be more than upset at the system if I was a black parent in the state of Florida. We have some of the finest teaching schools in the nation, but graduates often leave because they can always get more money elsewhere in this country.
I don't have the answers, but somebody needs to start working on this problem or this entire country will suffer.