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New Virginia standards set goals-by race?
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First, who is black? Who is Hispanic? Is a half-Asian, half-white student Asian or white? Is an Afro-Hispanic black or Hispanic? Wouldn't the state's measurements be more accurate if it swabbed kids' DNA? Pried apart the branches on their family tree? There was once a vocabulary to assist the state in what it envisions: "Octoroon." "Half-caste." "Chigro." Alas, such terms grew out of slavery, colonialism, and other systems that assumed some human colors were inherently superior to others. To resurrect such notions is, at very best, to be acutely tone-deaf.
And what broad categories! For example, "Asian." Will Virginia really lump young Japanese-Americans, who usually come from affluent backgrounds, with the children of illiterate Hmong tribesmen who landed on these shores after South Vietnam fell?
Second, associating races with different standards sets up what President George W. Bush rightly called "the soft bigotry of low expectations" and may actually inject prejudice (consciously or subconsciously) into both teachers and students. What a cruel disservice to a child to even hint that her abilities are circumscribed by her ethnicity.
Factors other than race can be good predictors of school achievement--and of where public resources should be targeted. For example, kids from single-parent homes or lower socioeconomic environments have more trouble achieving. Why not focus on the gaps in those realities?
"Virginia has done something very, very wrong," says Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust. "What Virginia said is, black kids in our state should not achieve at grade level, but at the highest level that black kids have achieved in the past. That's not a forward-looking goal."
The departments of education, state and federal, aren't intentionally fostering racism. But they've established standards that would leave any geriatric Klansman nodding and saying, "See there!" Closing the achievement gap is imperative. Intellectually handicapping whole races--which are composed of stereotype-defying individuals--can only subvert that objective.