It’s an open secret that the public schools are failing. So Congress passed the “No Child Left Behind Act” to require that students pass certain tests to prove they know the material. In Florida, Bush’s brother, Governer Jeb Bush, is under attack for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), a state-mandated standardized test that students must pass before moving from grade to grade and getting their high-school diplomas. The test has been described as the backbone of his educational reform plan.
But in protests getting national media attention, hundreds of mostly black adults and their children have rallied against the test. Some of the children have skipped school to join the protests. An Associated Press story in the Tallahassee Democrat said the following: “Statewide, more than 43,000 third-graders and 14,000 12th-graders didn’t pass, and protesters have said that an unfair percentage of those are minorities.” A UPI story said, “Activists contend that the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, known as FCAT, is unfair to minorities.” One commentator says it means that people have the right to be dumb.
Protesters are threatening an economic boycott of Florida businesses unless the test results are thrown out. Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Florida NAACP, says the students who fail are not to blame. “We let them have a substandard education and that’s not their fault,” he said. ”We find ourselves in the middle of a grave miscarriage of justice from a racist educational system that is embedded in racism,” he told the Miami Herald. State Education Department spokeswoman Frances Marine called the boycott “shameful,” saying, “What we ought to be focusing on is helping students instead of hurting Florida’s economy.”
Bill Maxwell, a black columnist for the St. Petersburg Times, admits that, “10th-graders who fail the test the first time get six more chances to pass it.” Yet he still gripes that too many students who fail it “are stigmatized and never fully recover.” He says some children get sick even thinking about taking the test. Rep. John Quinones and other Hispanic legislators introduced a proposal that would exempt some non-English-speaking students from having to pass the test.
Black motivational speaker John Amps says the protests are wrong: “Let’s not do away with FCAT?let’s try to educate more of our youth. I’m fed up with our Black leaders trying to dumb-down our young black youth?and it’s happening in the Hispanic community as well. As a black man I believe we can help bring our black youth up to a standard that is on par with other students in school instead of trying to give them excuses on why they should boycott when they get a diploma and can’t read. Let’s stop the boycotts and start helping our educators educate our children.”
But under pressure from the protests and a threatened boycott, Governor Bush has now asked the Florida Legislature for a provision allowing high school seniors to graduate if they pass other tests. It looks like the right to be dumb has won a partial victory.