Advocates of affirmative action never seem to realize that abandoning the “without regard” principle of colorblind equality — i.e., legitimizing the distribution of benefits and burdens based on race — can result in unfavorable, discriminatory treatment of their favored minorities, even when that harsh lesson is staring them in the face as it is now in Florida and Virginia.

“The Florida State Board of Education passed a plan that sets goals for students in math and reading based upon their race,” CBS News in Tampa reported on Friday.

According to the state board’s Strategic Plan , the goals are are for 90 percent of Asian students, 88 percent of white students, 81 percent of Hispanics ,and 74 percent of black students to be reading at or above grade level. In math, the goals are 92 percent of Asian kids to be proficient, whites 86 percent, Hispanics 80 percent,  and blacks 74 percent. These goals, the board stated, “recognize that not every group is starting from the same point and are meant to be ambitious but realistic.”

The state Board of Education’s plan to reduce academic goals for minorities, the Florida Sun Sentinel newspapers report, “has created a firestorm in South Florida.” And indeed it has:

  • Opponents say setting higher goals for whites and Asians and lower goals for Latino and black groups is insulting and feeds racial stereotypes.
  • “All children should be held to high standards and for them to say that for African-Americans the goal is below other students is unacceptable,” said Patrick Franklin, president and CEO of the Urban League of Palm Beach County.
  • Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie told the Sun Sentinel that “setting loftier benchmarks for some students perpetuates an already dysfunctional system.”
  • Jorge Avellana, executive director of the Hispanic Human Resources Council, Inc. in Palm Beach County, said lowering expectations for some racial groups “would create a second class group of citizens.”
  • Patrick Franklin, president and CEO of the Urban League of Palm Beach County, also told the Sun Sentinel that “for them to say that for African-Americans the goal is below other students is unacceptable.”
  • Palm Beach County School Board vice-chairwoman Debra Robinson, the Palm Beach Post reports, “called the state board’s actions essentially ‘proclaiming racism’ and said she wants Palm Beach County to continue to educate every child with the same expectations, regardless of race. ‘DOE (Department of Education) be damned,’ she said.”
  • Incoming Florida House Democratic leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale told Florida Curren tthat “[i]t is inappropriate to suggest, as the Board of Education has implied, that one race is academically inferior to another.”
  • Hilary Shelton, Washington Bureau director of the NAACP, even adopted a phrase coined by former President George W. Bush several years ago, telling CBS News that the Florida plan embodies, “what do they say? ‘Soft bigotry of low expectations.'”

Florida, alas, is not alone. Last summer the Virginia Department of Education announced its new annual reading and math objectives with lower benchmarks for blacks and Hispanics, and it too set off a firestorm of controversy.

The Huffington Post criticized Virginia for “reducing expectations based on race.” In a letter to Gov. McDonnell the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus called the new achievement objectives “insulting and narrow minded.” Its chair, Sen Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, “says the state is marginalizing students by setting different goals for how many pass each Standards of Learning test based on their race or background.” The Vice President of the Virginia NAACP described the new guidelines as “discriminating” and declared that her “biggest concern is setting lower expectations for minorities than other cultures. If you set low expectations for children, you devalue them, and demoralize them to themselves.”

These criticisms of the Florida and Virginia plans for lowering the standards of success for blacks and Hispanics are penetrating and persuasive. They are also glaringly inconsistent or hypocritical, since affirmative action in college admissions — i.e., lowering requirements for blacks and Hispanics — has the same debilitating effects, or worse, on those for whom the bar is condescendingly lowered. See Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help And Why Universities Won’t Admit It, the “magisterial” new book by Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor, Jr., for a compilation and analysis of the accumulating evidence of this harm. Yet the NAACP, civil rights advocates, and Democratic pols not only defend but glorify that differential treatment and its lowered standards based on race.

One of the saddest and most depressing things about this controversy over Florida’s and Virginia’s differential racial benchmarks is the shock and surprise one feels when encountering a Democrat or civil rights advocate actually calling for students to be treated without regard for their race.

[NOTEtruncated version of this post appears as a “Short Take” on Minding The Campus]