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August 11, 2013

CEPEDA: The definition of learning down

When stu-dents go through training to prepare for teaching low-income, minority or at-risk children, they learn how to empathize with their students’ lives. They’re taught to acknowledge environments lacking in resources, order or stability and “meet” the students at their level before expecting them to learn as easily as other children do.

Yet for all the lip service that modern pedagogy pays to the precept that “all children can learn,” rare are the educators who believe this enough to push such students toward their full academic potential.

Instead, educators come up with misguided policies to go easy on groups of underperforming students, perpetuating the worst kind of disrespect — that of lowered expectations — on whole categories of children who are assumed to be less capable.

Disrespected, underestimated and left behind is how you might imagine many Florida students and their parents felt about the new standards. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a civil rights complaint against their state board of education’s strategic plan, which sets less ambitious goals for black and Hispanic students than for white and Asian ones.

Approved last fall, the plan is designed to reduce below-grade-level performance by categorizing K-12 students into subgroups with adjusted goals for each. Where it goes astray is in expecting less of certain students based on their race.

The Florida Board of Education set the 2018 goal for reading at grade level at 90 percent for Asian students and 88 percent for white students, while expecting only 81 percent of Hispanic and 74 percent of black students to do so.

In math, 92 percent of Asian-American students and 86 percent of white students are expected to perform at grade level by 2018, but this is expected only of 74 percent of black students and 80 percent of Hispanic students.

I’m not suggesting that Florida’s Board of Education is racist but it seems as though they’ve bought into the victim narrative that so often permeates discussions about poverty. They’ve come down with a bad case of “pobrecito syndrome.”

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