Do you ever look around at what is happening in America and ask yourself, “Whatever became of the Civil Rights movement?”  Do you ever find yourself wondering if Civil Rights leaders of the past are rolling over in their graves as more and more government policies are propagated to manipulate decision making on the basis of race?  Do you ever wonder what happened to Dr. King’s dream of judging people by the “content of their character” rather than the “color of their skin?”  If you have not yet asked yourself these types of questions, prepare to do so when you read about Florida’s new race-based education standards.

Recently Florida’s state board of education approved new achievement standards for public schools that are based on the color of the student’s skin.  Ask public-school administrators how well a given student will have to perform in reading or math to graduate and they are now forced to answer, “It depends.” Then, before giving a more definitive answer, administrators will have to ask, “What race is the student?” Yes, this is 2012 not 1962, and I am not making this up.  In Florida, Asian students will have to perform better than white students to meet the new standards.  White students will have to perform better than Native American students, who will have to perform better than Latino students, who will have to perform better than black students.

The benchmark school year for Florida’s new education standards is 2018.  By that year 90 percent of Asian students must be able to function at or above grade level in reading.  White students get a small break.  Only 88 percent of them will have to show grade-level proficiency. Native American and Latino students get a moderate-sized break with percentages of 82 and 81 respectively.  Black students get the biggest break needing only 74 percent of this race reading at grade-level.  Similar standards have been developed for mathematics.

The undeniable message sent by these race-based standards is that Asian students are smart and black students are not.  The message to white, Native American, and Latino students is that they are neither smart nor dumb—just so so.  Speaking of dumb.  It would be difficult to come up with a more misguided, misleading, wrong-headed education policy than this one.  Dr. James Patterson of Lehigh University had this to say about Florida’s new standards: “I don’t know that I would call it racist, but I think we need to call out the school board for making a kind of concession that really re-inscribes our perceptions of race from the past.  At the end of the day you have to have statewide standards for all the students that are there then do the work to make sure that all students achieve those standards.”

Performing well in public school is more than anything a function of commitment and effort.  Students who take education seriously—as seriously for example as they take sports, social events, band, and other non-academic activities—do well in public school regardless of their race or socio-economic status.  Those who fail to put forth the effort required do poorly.  Success in school is not a function of race or socio-economic status.  It is a function of commitment, priorities, and effort.

I will agree to consider the viability of racially differentiated education standards when the schools establish racially differentiated standards for football, baseball, basketball, track, soccer, band, and other activities that students with poor academic records manage to excel at.  Image how different a track meet would be if public school sports programs followed the lead of their academic colleagues.  I can hear the announcer now.  “Folks that was a great 100 meter dash just now.  I will tell you who won as soon as we sort out the races of the various athletes.  John Smith crossed the finish line first, but John is black.  The apparent second place finisher was Asian so we are going to have to factor in the standards for each race before we will know for sure who won.” What a world.