The Two Directions of Our Public Schools

The system of public education is headed in two opposite directions.  Stated another way, there are progressive diktats on education and there are reactions against those diktats. 

The decades-long progressive war on educational standards continues.  For example, the University of California system, the largest in the country, now refuses to consider, as part of the admissions process, student’s scores on any standardized test such as the SAT or ACT. 

Affirmative action on behalf of black students has been in effect for decades throughout much of the country, even in the Golden State where it’s been illegal since 1996 to consider race in college admissions.  As the excellent Heather MacDonald chronicled in her book, The Diversity Delusion, progressives in the UC bureaucracy simply ignored the law and disguised their de facto racial preferences as other preferences, such as those for low-income students, reduced the emphasis on the SAT and LSAT and, eventually, on academic standards altogether. 

Universities like Yale and Harvard maintain frankly anti-Asian admissions policies and are being sued for doing so.  Trump’s Justice Department backed those suits; Biden’s backs the policies.  Oregon now has a law that prohibits schools from evaluating the state’s high school students on any objective measure of academic performance.

Meanwhile, the massively-Democratic Minneapolis school district turns out to be “among the most [racially] segregated in the country.”  What to do?  The district has come up with a new plan to get white and black students into the same classrooms.  It’s “asked” white parents to send their children to predominantly black schools.  Orwell would understand completely.  That’s because when the district said it “asked” white parents, what it really meant was, “about one-third of students — some 10,000 children of different races — were assigned to new schools this year.”  Yes, the verb “to ask” now means “to be assigned by a governmental authority.”  Whether parents will comply with the new mandate remains unknown.

The latest progressive educational fiasco to be foisted on us is something called “standards-based grading.”  Now, don’t think for an instant that standards-based grading has anything to do with, well, standards.  In the Orwellian world of progressive education, standards-based grading means the abandonment of standards.  Teacher Auguste Meyrat tells how another teacher put S-BG into practice:

For the sake of “equity” and minimizing complaints about grades, he simply did away with performance-based grades (“traditional grading”) altogether and assigned grades for learning a skill or concept instead. Under this framework, even incomplete work or work turned in late could plausibly receive a high grade if “learning” was somehow exhibited.

That’s it in a nutshell.  In order to achieve “equity” (i.e., all students get a passing grade regardless of achievement), the teacher asks only that they, in some unexplained way, demonstrate “learning.” 

So, if a student has slept through two projects and an essay, a short paragraph that mentions the relevant terms can be used to justify a claim that the student has “mastered the standard” even if it isn’t really true.

Plus, students are given as much time as they like to complete assignments and multiple re-dos of those assignments, the better to liken underperforming students to the rest of the class.   

And yes, it’s all about “equity.”

According to a letter from Los Angeles Unified School District’s instructional directors to principals, traditional grading is used to “justify and to provide unequal educational opportunities based on a student’s race or class.”

How that supposedly happens is anyone’s guess.  As Meyrat points out,

Students in the same classroom with the same teacher all have the same opportunity to turn in their work. Some comply and some don’t. Any disparity, particularly in work meant to be done in class, is mostly the result of students’ choices. Instead of incentivizing better choices among low-performing groups, eliminating due dates and offering infinite retakes only reinforces and excuses bad habits. It is the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Of course it is.  We’ve been doing this for 50 years.  Why would we change?

So much for the latest progressive trends in what’s laughingly called “education.”

There, progressives happily pose on the side of “equity,” which means that individual effort, initiative, ability, talent, creativity, responsibility, etc. are to be ignored in order to “grade” everyone the same.  Everyone gets a pony, regardless.

But let’s be clear about one thing: progressives may pretend it’s about equity, but it’s about far more.  From start to finish, it’s about shielding everyone – students, teachers, teachers’ unions, schools, school districts, school boards, politicians, the lot – from any form of accountability.  Are schools incompetent at doing their job, i.e., teaching kids?  Get rid of objective measures of competency to obscure the fact.  Do kids finish high school without even the rudiments of academic mastery that the SAT is designed to reflect?  Blow off the SAT and any objective measure like it. 

The point has less to do with “equity” than with rendering an incompetent system difficult to judge.  Why else would we see the virulent opposition to charter schools and home schooling that stand as mute testimony to the fact that kids are perfectly capable of learning at a high level and that, if they don’t, it’s traditional public schools that are to blame?

Make no mistake, one of the primary functions of progressive educational trends is to make it as difficult as possible for parents and voters to know what’s really going on behind the closed doors of traditional public schools.

But many people do know and they’re pushing back against the tyranny of an incompetent system whose primary interest is self-preservation.  I’ll get into that next time.



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