Press Release

The following Letter to the Editor was submitted yesterday to the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida in response to a story it published about the student achievement goals set forth in the Florida Board of Education’’s new strategic plan.

To the Editor:

The strategic plan adopted by the Florida Board of Education does indeed set different goals for different groups of students. While that may feel ““just plain wrong”” to some, it’’s absolutely the right thing to do.

If we are to close the achievement gap, we need to demand more and faster progress for students of color. And that’s exactly what the Florida plan does. It’s 2018 “”deadline”” is an interim point, not a final destination. If these goals are met, our long, tough journey to real educational equity won’t be over. But all of Florida’’s children will be doing better and the state’’s stubborn and shameful achievement gaps will be significantly narrower than they are today.

Florida —- like a number of other states, and the District of Columbia, where I live -— has adopted a ““cut the gap in half” goal” to replace the federal No Child Left Behind’’s requirement of ““100 percent proficiency by 2014.”” Unfortunately, NCLB was not taken seriously by many people working in schools because it did not take into account how far behind some students started out. The “”cut the gap in half”” goal does. Also, unlike NCLB, it is based on a careful analysis of school improvement data showing that the improvement rates at schools across the country that are making the most progress for their students indeed would ““cut the gap in half.”” And to do that, the vast majority of schools in Florida will have to up their games -— by a lot, especially for the students who are furthest behind.

Take a look at what the plan demands: by 2018, reading scores for white students would have to improve by 19 percentage points while those for African Americans would need to improve by 36 percentage points. Similarly, the proportion of Latino students meeting reading standards would jump from 53 percent today to 81 percent in 2018. That’’s certainly not where we want and need to be by any means; but it is leaps and bounds ahead of current growth trajectories. To meet these goals for Latino and African-American students, schools will have to finally and quite deliberately focus more attention and resources on them.

As the mother of an African-American fifth grader, I am more impatient than most for change on behalf of the students who for too long have gotten far too little of what our schools have to offer. But I also recognize that quick fixes and lofty promises that make adults feel good have failed black, brown and poor children for generations. The journey to justice is a long, hard one -— and we won’t get where we need to go overnight. But the achievement goals that Florida has established are the right next step for the state and for all of its students, especially for its students of color.

Amy Wilkins
The Education Trust
Washington, D.C.