Is mediocrity the new standard for Black students?

Florida adopts race-based academic goals, community in uproar

Carla St.Louis | 1/23/2014, 9 a.m.
While many thought Jim Crow politics ended with the Civil Rights movement, the Southern Poverty Law Center alleges otherwise in ...

“In Miami-Dade County Public Schools, we have one goal:  that all students will learn and be career or college ready when they graduate,” said Alberto M. Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools. “We do not believe in different expectations for students based on their race or socio-economic background. We have the same expectations for all of our students. This sends the devastating message that it is the color of their skin, not their hard work and perseverance that will determine their academic success.”

Dr. Amir Witaker, a psychologist who teaches street law at Miami Carol City Senior High School was more concerned about the long-term effects the plan would have on Black youths-specifically their psyche and vulnerability to the school-to-prison pipeline.

“Once a teacher writes off a student, it doesn’t give the child an opportunity to make up for lost time in the sense that the child isn’t being challenged or given resources for advancement,” he said. “It effects their mentality and it effects the way they’re treated.”

The founder and director of Project Knucklehead, a non-profit with after school and juvenile delinquency programs throughout Florida and California, Whitaker explained that youths who’ve internalized lowered expectations are susceptible to the school-to-prison pipeline, a trajectory that says Black men in their 20s are more likely to have a criminal record than high school diploma.

“Without a quality education, opportunities are limited,” he said. “There’s no means for success. The education system advances opportunities. If the schools are giving up on them than there’s no place for them to turn to but crime to occupy their time.”

Whitaker accused the Department of Education of “manipulating numbers” in an effort to “create the illusion of success at the cost of Black youth’s confidence and self worth.”

In regards to the plan, he commented, “”It simply meets the goal post as opposed to requiring students to meet academic measures. It writes off tens and thousands of students as throwaways while it highlights the state’s complacency with failure for students of color. “

In Miami, the plan is projected to impact 90 percent of students attending public school, and over 2.7 million students statewide.

Plan perpetuates

racist stereotypes

“The strategic plan passed by the Florida Board of Education is state-sanctioned racism--something we have not seen since the fight to end education inequality and segregation in the 1960s,” said Stephanie Langer, staff attorney with the SPLC’s Biscayne Blvd. office. “Rather than adopt a race-neutral plan focused on improving educational outcomes and reducing disparities, Florida adopted a plan setting widely differing academic achievement goals for students based on nothing more than race and national origin.”

“The research is clear: Low expectations result in low achievement,” said Jerri Katzerman, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “By setting lower expectations for Black and Hispanic students, Florida is telling these students that it is their skin color--not their hard work and perseverance--that will determine their success in school. This plan will only widen the achievement gap in Florida classrooms.”