A recently implemented plan that allows Alabama to use race-based benchmarks for student progress is drawing harsh criticism from conservative education reformers and minority parents.
Last month, the federal Department of Education approved Alabama’s Plan 2020, which alters the state’s federally-required system of measuring K-12 students’ college readiness. Students will now be broken into predominantly race-based categories — American Indian; Asian or Pacific Islander; black; English language learners; Hispanic; multiracial; poor; special education; and white — and expectations will be lower or higher depending upon the group.
For example, 91.5 percent of white third-graders should be proficient in mathematics, whereas only 85.5 percent of Hispanic students and 79 percent of black students will be expected to pass, according to the Tuscaloosa News.
Minority parents were not pleased with the new measurements.
“I think it’s dumbing our race down and preparing our boys for prison,” said Tim Robinson, a black man and father of two elementary school children. “The teachers aren’t even going to teach all of them anymore. Not the black boys and girls. And if we sit by and let this happen, it’s on us.”
Other minority parents echoed his concerns.
Elois Zeanah, president of the Alabama Federation of Republican Women, condemned the race-based standards.
“Isn’t this discrimination? Doesn’t this imply that some students are not as smart as others depending on their genetic and economic backgrounds?” she asked in a statement.
State superintendent Tommy Bice disagreed that the standards were discriminatory. He said that all subgroups were expected to become 100 percent proficient eventually, but the reality is that students of certain ethnicity are lagging behind.
“Some groups have farther to go,” he said in a statement. “We are actually putting more expectation on ourselves and on those students who are behind to increase at a greater rate.”
Alabama is just the latest state to receive approval from the federal government to alter its college-readiness measurements. Some 38 states already transitioned to comprehensive measurement systems, and most use different measurements from certain racial groups, according to a report.
Alabama’s new plan, however, has been approved at a time when the efficacy of national education curriculum and testing systems are increasingly being called into question. Common Core — a set of federally-backed national curriculum standards being implemented in most states — has prompted a substantial public backlash.
Conservatives fear that the new standards were approved too hastily and amount to a massive federal overreach; and liberals don’t like the idea of holding teachers accountable to a national standardized test. Others find the curriculum stifling.
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