by Mikel Kwaku Osei Holt
The Florida Board of Education has officially declared that Black students are intellectually inferior to students of other races.
No, you’re not misreading that.
Last week the Florida board that governs state school policies passed a set of reading and math standards based on that racist assumption. Under the new guidelines, Florida schools will now establish reading and math proficiency standards for Black students that are nearly one-third the level of White and Asian children. By 2018, state school goals require that 90% of Asian and 88% of White students to be proficient in math and reading. The official ‘goal’ for Black students is set at only 74%.
The implication of these racially based goals isn’t written in brail, but in a form of English that state officials imply Black and Hispanic children cannot read.
As expected, the state school board’s new mandate has ignited a firestorm of controversy, as did similar policies in Virginia and Washington, D.C., both of which also passed race based benchmarks in recent years. None of those outcries were enough to dissuade school officials from retreating from their declarations, which officials have said are dictated as the only viable option to comply with terms of the controversial No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA).
Ironically, the NCLBA was sponsored by the late Senator Ted Kennedy and considered the hallmark of the Bush Administration. Its intent was to force greater accountability in public schools and to close the achievement gap between Black and White students. Most school districts and teachers unions hate the provisions of the NCLBA, which has brought to light not only the glaring achievement gaps between students of color, but also the inherent dichotomy of urban education.
But you can’t entirely blame the NCLBA for the declarations of the states and District of Columbia to ‘racialize’ public education in their respective states. Obviously, these racially based goals can be viewed as a politically convenient way around dealing with the failures (or inability) of public school systems to educate all Black children, even though this strategy brings to light the intrinsic assumption that Black children are intellectually inferior.
Get mad at me if you want, but that fact can’t be denied, or ignored. Look beyond the code words—poverty, dysfunctional families, or urbanization—and you’re left with a blinding light of racist assumptions.
And if you can see beyond that premise, you’re left with two uncomfortable extremes: something is either wrong with the system, or something is indeed wrong with our children (or their parents, society and our socioeconomic status).
Before you venture into the unsettling abyss that will provide your ultimate answer to that question, consider that a legitimate case is offered by the officials of the three aforementioned school systems that the proficiency goals for Black children are actually higher than they are currently. In Florida, for example, “the percentage of White students scoring at or above grade level (as measured by whether they scored a three or higher on the reading FCAT) was 69% in 2011-2012, according to the state. For Black students, it was 38%, and for Hispanics, it was 53%.”
Can racism alone explain those stats?
Remember also that it was but three years ago that Milwaukee Black fourth graders had the lowest reading proficiency rates in the United States. Do you recall what school officials said to explain that sad statistic?
Moreover, according to the Department of Public Instruction, an achievement gap exists even among Black students who have ‘escaped’ the Milwaukee Public Schools under the Chapter 220, inter or intra district transfer programs. (Incidentally, numerous national studies reveal that Asian children outperform White students throughout the country.)
None of this is to say there are not many exceptional Black students. But the racists will quickly note they are the exception, and not the rule. In fact, the sad part of this phenomenon is not that the racists believe Black children are intellectually, morally and culturally inferior. But that many liberals believe it as well.
I’ve been in this game long enough to have come to the realization that there is little difference in the educational outcome for Black children if someone believes Black children are intellectually inferior, or those who blame poverty or dysfunctional families for the ‘inability’ of Black children to reach their God given potential. And truth is if you don’t have high expectations for Black children, the end result is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But that’s just one jagged piece of this complex puzzle.
The other pertinent reality we must put on the table is the question of why Black children perform so much better at Black controlled schools that utilize an Africentric model? And what about those institutions in Milwaukee like Messmer, Hope and St. Marcus, which stress strong discipline and religious values?
It was just a few weeks ago that local educational expert Taki Raton posed that former question to an audience at Community Brainstorming, asking the audience why Black children attending dozens of small, under-funded Africentric schools around the country excelled in spite or despite their socioeconomic status? Raton provided irrefutable documentation that those models work.
But an Africentric curriculum isn’t the only viable option. Replace a strong cultural foundation with a value or spiritual based, mandated parental involvement and high expectations for all students and you end up with local stalwart institutions like Messmer and Hope, both of which not only have graduation rates in excess of 94%, but proficiency rates for students of all races which are essentially identical.
(For point of reference I’m not mentioning public school like King and Reagan solely because they have admission requirements that imply they can, and do, cream the best of the best. But they also strengthen my point that some schools outperform others in setting Black children on the path to academic achievement.)
So what is the secret, or the difference?
In the cases of the three private schools, poverty is not viewed as a mountainous handicap, but anthills to be stepped over en route to established goals of excellence. Teachers are goal oriented and mission driven. Parents are part of the educational partnership.
And least you think otherwise, the student populations at each of those schools is identical to the MPS student population—80 plus percent of the students are eligible for free lunches and nearly 70% come from single parent households.
One final point for your consideration as you work your way through this dichotomous phenomenon. Studies have shown that the average Asian student in America studies in excess of four hours each night. The average White child puts in about two hours. And the average Black child ‘dedicates’ less than 50 minutes to his or her educational endeavors.
You don’t have to be a genius to figure out the outcome of those varying degrees of dedication and discipline.