Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Florida’s Racially Biased Goals

I thought I should weigh in on the latest education controversy before too much more time went by.  I’ve been reading material from the DOE web site where the goals first appeared – and the written explanations that popped up once the outcries began.  This took quite a lot of time which is why this blog is late.  Educators are nothing if not wordy, and only doctors and lawyers can come close to beating them at jargon.  I’m not done yet, but here’s what we know so far.  As part of their latest 6-year plan, ending in 2018, the E’s came up with the following goals for Reading and Math:  http://www.fldoe.org/board/meetings/2012_10_09/strategicv3.pdf

·        90% of Asian-American students reading at or above grade level
·       88% of White students reading at or above grade level 
·       82% of American Indian students reading at or above grade level
·       81% of Hispanic students reading at or above grade level
·       74% of Black/African-American students reading at or above grade level  
  •  92% of Asian-American students at grade level in Math
  • 86% of White students at grade level in Math
  • 81% of American Indian students at grade level in Math
  • 80% of  Hispanic students at grade level in Math
  • 74% of Black/African American students at grade level in Math  
Naturally, the public responded with dismay.  This is outright bigotry much more blatantly displayed than usual.  And, as usual, the Educators have responded with explanations that sound well-reasoned and logical.  It’s just being realistic, they say, to factor in where everyone’s starting points are in determining goals that are attainable.  They insist that since minority children begin so far behind, these goals reflect a very aggressive effort.  69% of White students currently score at grade level which would only have to improve by 19 percentage points, while only 38% of Black students currently score at grade level and would have to improve by 36 percentage points.  Plus, these are just the interim goals; 100% of everyone will be reaching grade level in everything by 2022.  Really – they have charts!  And anyway, they’re just doing what it takes to get the grant money from the Fed’s (and now we finally approach the crux of the matter).  There’s this “Federal Flexibility Waiver” with “Annual Measurable Objectives”.  This is all just the beginning of an honest and forthright discussion of what is possible.  Really!

Except there is no mention of the fact that minorities are so far behind because of the system’s own policies, teaching methods, and curricula for many generations now.  There is no acknowledging that this same spiel is used every time there is yet more “school improvement” coming down the pike.  There is the admitting that since 2001, the White/Black gap has closed a mere 5%, but there is no mention that the improvement plans of that time were heralded with just as much fanfare – and just as many optimistic charts. 

Honest?  Here’s what “honest” looks like:  The reason so many minority children struggle with learning to read is because so many of them speak a minority dialect.  I’m not talking about a regional accent; I’m talking about a mode of language that diverges strongly from Standard English.  A minority dialect is Exhibit A that there has been no education available to these speakers no matter how many years they have attended school.  This is also an indication that there has been either inadequate or no Phonics instruction in these schools, often for generations.  The stronger the dialect, the worse the schools have been for a longer time.  For Phonics to be effective, the students must learn to pronounce the sounds of Standard English.  This doesn’t mean that the kids should be humiliated or disdained – which has certainly happened in way too many classrooms (especially right after integration).  But it does mean that children will need to be corrected when they mispronounce words, and to do this has been politically incorrect since at least the 60’s-70’s.  It is now seen as disrespectful of a child’s culture to correct that child’s speech.  So the Phonics lessons, if there are any at all, are ineffective, the children do not learn to read, and education is rendered impossible.  It’s all completely unnecessary; many well-educated minority adults are able to switch from Standard English to their home dialect, or language, quite easily.  A good school should be able to teach Standard pronunciation without extinguishing either a child’s home language or self-esteem.  I just don’t believe that our current school personnel will have the guts to realize the depth of their responsibility for the racial aspect of the reading gap, nor will they come up with adequate answers to the problem.

So many of us now believe that minority parents will be horribly insulted if we correct their child’s speech that it will take parental choice to turn this around.  In order to avoid protest and backlash, the parents must be the people who decide whether or not their children will be instructed in Standard pronunciation and corrected – with kindness and good humor, please – when they need it.  Something tells me that many, many minority parents would opt for the reading instruction that has been proven to be most effective for centuries.