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Academic Bias, Recent News, U.S. Politics

Behind Race-Based Education Goals

A number of states have decided to separate their education achievement goals by race as part of their No Child Left Behind waivers. The question remains whether this move marks a “realistic” approach to education, or a major step backward for education fueled by lowered expectations for racial groups.

“I put the question of states adjusting expectations based on a student’s ethnicity to Carla O’Connor, an associate professor in the School of Education at the University of Michigan,” writes Emily Richmond for The Atlantic.  “O’Connor, who specializes in African-American student achievement and urban education, said the new sliding bar for expectations is a huge step backward.”

“No Child Left Behind presumed that all students would be able to learn and perform at similar levels – the current efforts suggest that not all kids have that ability, and we shouldn’t even try,” O’Connor told Richmond, who blogs at educatedreporter.com. “Once we shift to different standards, we’re institutionalizing the notion that’s not even feasible.”

Richmond traces the “cut the gap in half” idea back to Education Trust’s 2010 set of recommendations. “Education Secretary Arne Duncan, speaking at Ed Trust’s recent national conference in Washington, D.C., praised the organization for taking the lead in developing the ‘cut the gap in half’ approach, calling it ‘very ambitious’ but ‘also achievable,’” she reports.  Secretary Duncan, according to his prepared remarks, stated that “Contrary to what you may have read, these waivers will push states to dramatically accelerate achievement and attainment for disadvantaged students and students of color.”

The Secretary later continues,

“As you are aware, Ed Trust helped develop and pioneer the idea that states should initially seek to cut the achievement gap in half, with the ultimate goal of eliminating it. The premise of that approach is obviously not that educators should lower expectations for students of color but rather that we need to demand more and faster progress for students of color.

Unlike the 2014 goal in NCLB, cutting the achievement gap in half in the near-term is very ambitious but is also achievable. And unlike the 2014 goal, the cutting the gap in half approach takes account of the fact that some students start far behind their more privileged peers” (emphasis added).

In other words, states are not going to reach the 2014 goal set out by No Child Left Behind, and the current administration will provide an alternative goal with more years for school districts–and states–to cut the achievement gap instead. One wonders whether another extension could also be expected in 2018.

“An example of a state that has set up appropriate goals for specific ethnic groups — at least in Ed Trust’s view — is Florida, Wilkins said,” reports Richmond. “What remains to be determined is the state’s plan for boosting achievement of Latino, Black and low-income students, and what consequences those schools will face if they fall short.” Florida’s announcement of its race-based educational goals was met with considerable controversy, as I noted earlier. “On Tuesday, the board passed a revised strategic plan that says that by 2018, it wants 90 percent of Asian students, 88 percent of white students, 81 percent of Hispanics and 74 percent of black students to be reading at or above grade level,” reported Benjamin Fearnow for CBS Tampa.

Education Trust’s Vice President Amy Wilkins has “estimated that there are about 15 states that have set up parameters that align with Ed Trust’s recommendations,” reports Richmond. However, according to Education Week, of the 34 states with waivers, “only 8 set the same targets for all students.”

You can find out if your state has applied for a waiver, and view the details of each proposal, by visiting http://www.ed.gov/esea/flexibility/requests. You can also check out Education Trust’s analysis of each state’s waiver at http://www.edtrust.org/node/3126.

For more reading:

No Child Left Behind Waivers Take States by Storm

NCLB Waiver Allows Race-Based Education Goals

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