# What If Race Really Didn’t Matter?

I don’t know about you, but it sure seems that the more politicians try to claim that race doesn’t matter, the more it seems to matter.  Recently the state of Florida issued some new achievement goals as part of their new five-year plan.  Rather than stating some overall achievement goal, the State Board of Education chose to tie the achievement goals to race.  Here are the numbers.

By 2018, the State Board of Education wants 90% of Asian students, 88% of white students, 81% of Hispanic students and 74% of black students to be reading on grade level.  For math, the numbers are 92%, 86%, 80% and 74% respectively.  The first question should be, “Where are we today?”  For reading, the numbers are 76% for Asian, 69% for White, 53% for Hispanic and 38% for blacks.  For math, the numbers are 82% for Asian, 68% for White, 55% for Hispanic and 40% for black.  The second question might be, “How much improvement is needed?”  The following table shows the increase in percentage for each racial group.

 Racial Group Area Today 2018 Increase % increase Asian Reading 76 90 14 18.4 Asian Math 82 92 10 12.2 White Reading 69 88 19 27.5 White Math 68 86 18 26.5 Hispanic Reading 53 81 28 52.8 Hispanic Math 55 80 25 45.4 Black Reading 38 74 36 94.7 Black Math 40 74 34 85.0

It is the last column of this table that you really want to look at.  This column shows the percent increase in the number of students in each racial and test area that must be achieved.  Unless I am missing something, there are very big expectations for some races and relatively little expectations for others.

In any case, I first want to say that it would be ideal if when you looked at race, that achievement scores were comparable across the board.  But the fact of the matter is, they are not.  Simply defining a performance goal to narrow the gap between the best performing races and the worst performing races may not be the entire answer.  It implies that schools and teachers will need to spend more time with some racial groups to meet these goals while ‘ignoring’ the other groups.  As much as some people might say that will not happen, the fact remains that even teachers only have 24 hours in a day and of that, they only have the students for about a third of that time.

The Florida Education Commissioner, Pamela Stewart, has been quoted in the Miami Herald as saying that “Florida believes every child can learn.”  No doubt.  However, I think we need to ask the following questions.  Does every child want to learn?  Is every child motivated by their home, friends, and family to learn?  Does every child have a goal for what they want to do in life?  Or do they just go through the motions, day after day, school year after school year hoping things will eventually all work out.  Hope is not a plan (Sorry Mr. President).  I submit that if the answer to either of these questions is no, perhaps a better challenge for society is to determine why some children may not want to learn and are not motivated to learn.  Without solving this fundamental problem, progress may be limited.

Case in point.  I know of a student a few years back who did not perform to grade level expectations in high school.  Suddenly, this student started doing much better in his studies.  When asked what changed, his response (paraphrased) was that he had to do better in school now so he could get a good job when he graduated in a few months so he could support his new baby boy.  Ok, perhaps not the best motivation, but at least it was motivation that turned him around to be a contributor to society rather than a drain on society.

I know of another student who when asked why she did not try to do better in school replied that all she wanted to do when she got out of school was to work with her Mom being a hair dresser and all that study ‘stuff’ would not mean a thing anyway.

Another student was just biding time until graduation until he could join his father painting houses.  When shown how knowing basic geometry could help him calculate how much paint to buy to paint a house, he suddenly became interested in doing geometry problems.

Motivation!  Nothing drives people to success more than this one factor.  Do some racial groups motivate their children more than others?  Perhaps.  If that is a real factor, how can we provide more motivation to all students?  How can we bring successful people from different racial groups into schools to motivate students to find the success that is within them just looking for a way to express itself?  How can we increase the motivation that must also come from home, family and friends?  Maybe schools could consider evening or weekend seminars for parents on, ‘How to Motivate your Child to Success’.  Maybe there are other ways that you can come up with.  Your local schools are waiting to hear from you.

Of course, as in all of my Tuesday rants, this is just my opinion and not the opinion of my employer or anyone else.  Fundamentally, I applaud the ultimate goal of the state to close the gap between the percentage of students scoring at or above their grade level by all students regardless of race.  But by making race the central point of these goals, it has done more to cause dissension between the races than to bring the races together in unity.

What if race didn’t matter?  What if we looked at raising student achievement by motivating students to find ways that they can make a difference in our world without regard to race?  What if we could motivate each and every student to work hard for their own success?  What a different county this could be.

C’ya next time.