The Bigotry of Low Expectations (and the Failure of the Systemic Racism Narrative)

Today, I consider damning words provided me from a teacher friend at a local public school. I still hear many say it is possible to get a good education in public school; motivated kids can and often still do well.  There are bright spots in public education for sure, but the overall package is still a massive failure.

The evidence of failure is obvious, but the reasons for failure are something I often contemplate. Teacher friends indicate a major trouble spot are administrators out-of-touch with the kids; they don’t realize their good intentioned measures are failing.  Here is one assessment:

We are failing our kids by not demanding more of them.  The solutions are pretty simple, but the longer we delay the harder it will be to change.  The rot has set in. 

This parallels with my own work as an IT manager. Administrators (executives, in our case) lower expectations and think that kids or parents (colleagues, in our case) will improve if provided a more inclusive, equitable, and loving environment. It is a nice thought, but not reasonable. As a manager, I challenge our folks; most want to do well and be part of a successful organization. Lower standards and lower expectations from those above us leads to lower performance for all.

The simple formula of lowering expectations is just not good for kids supposedly helped by it. Sherlock Holmes, Mr. Spock, or any logical thinker will tell you: demand less, you get less (the wonderful thing about such deductive logic is that you can be 100% certain in your conclusions). Most kids love Christmas and will always take the present of an easier path. The kids enjoy the short-term benefits without understanding the longer term detriment to their futures. Unless pushed by a parent or a teacher, they are unlikely to push back. My teacher friend put it this way:

The psychology is clear: If you raise expectations, people will rise to meet those expectations. Well, for years, with good intentions (and you know where those lead), we have systematically lowered expectations. And the children, not stupid, have realized this and most of them are meeting us at the bottom. In some of my classes, I will take up work and only three or four kids out of 30 will have bothered to do it. The work will trickle in over the next few days, but with still only about half of the kids turning in anything. And for the past two years now, we’ve been discouraged from taking off points from late work.

My teacher friend mentioned a new measure implemented in his school: make the lowest possible grade a fifty. Do nothing and you are guaranteed a fifty. How do you suppose that is interpreted by kids who are at least smart enough to game the system? If you have a decent homework grade, you can skip a few homework sessions and still afford the fifty, especially in classes you don’t like. My friend added the following:

I would emphasize that these bad ideas begin at the central office among career administrators many of whom probably never taught. Then the ideas are either enthusiastically pushed by admin, or pushed reluctantly, depending on their level of common sense. Either way, they get pushed. And then teachers are expected to implement the ideas. Some things we’re able to ignore. What I call “50 is the new 0” was successfully ignored some years back, but I think that was an exception.

If you haven’t experienced a better system maybe you don’t realize the problem. However, I see massive differences between my kids’ charter school (as well as private schools we have attended) and the public schools their friends attend.

Our kids each spent ten years at private schools and four at a public charter high school ranked in the top ten in our state.  We made the thirty minute commute instead of relying on the local school bus, an inconvenience, especially when adding the commute for sports or other after-school activities; fewer vacations and home improvements is worth our kids receiving a better education.

We found an oasis among failing public schools, but it is available to all within reach. Our kids accomplished things they never realized they could; these were never beyond their reach (it just appeared so). Our school doesn’t countenance 10% turning in work on time or 50% that don’t bother to turn in work at all. Either situation would be a massive scandal at our school (it should also be a scandal at my friend’s school, but is tolerated by the administration). We don’t have many kids failing and none who are protected from failing. We don’t have the large scale discipline problems: drugs, fighting, guns, skipping school, or any of the rest. Problems are dealt with, not ignored. We don’t have the lack of respect for teachers. We don’t have kids who believe they are “furries” first instead of students We have hardly any of the multitude of problems that plague so many public schools.

Our school sets high expectations for every kid. Their philosophy is as follows:

A regional school that provides a rigorous, college preparatory curriculum for students in grades 6 – 12. While developing strong character, students engage in highly challenging courses that will require them to work diligently in and out of the classroom. A high caliber teaching staff prepares a rigorous curriculum to prepare students for post-secondary opportunities. 

Students in the Senior High enjoy a great deal of freedom because of what the staff has come to expect. The skills and behaviors that have been cultivated and reinforced through the previous years should now be second nature. The level of student accountability has increased and as such students are able to manage small windows of their own time. Students understand that they are responsible for their education as well as their behavior. The schedule at this level may include a period for students that is an open, unmanaged time or they may be taking an on-line college course. The goal is for students to learn to take advantage of these times just like they will be required to do in college and in life beyond. Course schedules at this level depend on the student’s needs as it relates to their individualized graduation plan.

Compare this to the vison or mission statements of other local schools:

A student centered environment with a focus on sustainable development through the scopes of environment, economy, equality, health and well-being. Learners will be compassionate leaders able to promote prosperity while protecting resources.


Mission Statement: To ignite a passion for learning, and to inspire our students to become enthusiastic learners and participants in their education.

Vision: To have high expectations to create critical thinkers, life long learners, and productive citizens.

For several local schools, I couldn’t find a vision or mission statement worth sharing. Of course, statements don’t matter if you are not committed to them and don’t follow through on them. Kids know figure out quickly if your words mean anything. Our kids know they are in a tougher environment, but still don’t want to switch to the easier environment. They have learned through experience the value of being challenged.

Without a push, most kids won’t achieve all they are capable of. The public schools like promoting kids that do well, but at the same time appear afraid of upsetting parents or community leaders by demanding more of all kids. A few kids do well because they are self-motivated or pushed by parents. Schools highlight these kids along with their successful programs, but most don’t challenge kids in general. Either they don’t care or they do care but are afraid to say they do. Our charter school, on the other hand, creates a challenging environment; it would fail to attract the kids it has otherwise.

Our school presents the high expectations up front. This approach turns off some parents for sure; we don’t get those not seeking a good education. That’s fine. Most importantly, however, our school follows through on those high expectations and flushes out kids who won’t or can’t do well. The less serious students realize the high expectations are for real and look for an easier school instead. The rest adapt and most do well, far better than they would otherwise.

Parents That Care

The overwhelming majority of our parents care about education. I actually never met any who didn’t care. Without a doubt, both private and public schools have significant numbers of parents who care, but the ratio of parents who care to those who don’t care is so much higher at schools like ours. Most private (and charter) school parents are making a sacrifice of some sort, and so they are invested in their kid’s education.

Too many parents accept the current paradigm or are aware of no other paradigm. Too many parents will do anything but blame their own kids or simply don’t care if their kids succeed or fail at academics (maybe because they didn’t do well themselves). All these non-caring or uninformed parents and the administrators who cater to them wind up overwhelming the rest of the parents (and teachers and administrators and others) who care about academics. My teacher friend echoes my concerns about parents:

You’re exactly right about how many public school parents do not care. The only way to get their attention is to confiscate a cell phone. A kid could have eight zeros and they don’t care, but take a phone and you’ll get a reaction.

Another teacher friend added the following regarding parents:

The only other thing I see is parents wanting to be friends with their children and not raising them with rules, morals and right vs wrong. A lot of parents I deal with make excuses for their kids when in fact the kids didn’t tell the truth.

The low expectations from parents are the essence of the public school problem. When parents care, make sacrifices for their kids, or are interested in their kids academic performance, administrators will care as well. Caring parents seek schools that demand more of their kids; those schools demand more of kids because it is what the vast majority of parents want. Parents who don’t care (or don’t know enough to care) take whatever option is most convenient to them.

Simple solutions often overlook important factors, but the remedies are simple. Demand more. Set high expectations. Do not settle for less. Ignore, marginalize, or leave behind the parents who don’t care.

Wait a Minute: What About Race?

This leads to one of the main reasons for school failure: equity, the lazy man’s analysis of all problems for whatever ails our country these days. Lack of equity (equal outcomes) is used to define racism. Many of these measures are instituted in the name of combatting racism, but do they really help anything? Race is the stumbling block inevitably raised when questioning the current education paradigm. You don’t like our new rules? You must be a racist. If kids of one race do more poorly, the policy or the school or the administrator or the local politicians must be racist (how could it possibly be anything else?). The racist label must be avoided at all cost. Don’t blame me or my policies, blame those evil systemic racists who lurk behind every tree instead.

Something I discovered only recently–is that the push to lower the number of discipline referrals was a national public school effort. It’s like the many DAs around the country who are declining to prosecute even armed robberies. In the name of equity.

To avoid being lumped in with those awful systemic racists, solutions like “Fifty is the new zero” or reduced disciplinary measures are imposed. If nobody is punished, well then we have equity. Administrators, surely know these solutions are not the best, but impose them anyway.

Administrators also focus on bad grades, low test scores, poor discipline. They change how these metrics are measured or, better yet, eliminate the metrics altogether and they have fewer failing kids. Voila! Fewer failing kids means you’re doing better and your school or your school district is now considered a success. Most importantly, it means you’re not a racist after all–which perversely means you may actually be rewarded; you now stand out among our irremediably and systemically racist culture. Who knew?

You must show equity among the races in your school or school district. Promote the “success” of certain traditionally discriminated races and you are an anti-racist hero! The long term results and negative effect on the kids you are responsible for no longer matter. You demonstrate the results in the present.

It doesn’t matter how such results are achieved; it doesn’t matter if the kids are better served; it doesn’t matter if kids are actually improving their academic skills; it doesn’t matter if they are ready for what comes next as adults. What matters are your positive statistics. They show better results among the races (exactly what they were manipulated to show). If all fail equally, then you have a “success” of some sort. It is a warped paradigm, but the one we are currently entangled in. God help us.

Of course, we do not help kids by ignoring their failures. We do not help kids by not disciplining them or telling them they are succeeding when indeed they are not. This is akin to eliminating competition in sporting contests. What’s the point of a sporting contest without scoring and without winners and losers? What’s the point of a challenge if there is no chance, or perhaps a very limited chance, of failure? How does one feel good about one’s accomplishments in this instance? What accomplishments? Again: demand less, get less.

This short tutorial explains why this supposed problem of racism is really just a false flag that is played all too often. fallacy-of-false-cause. If no other explanation suits, throw the race card; you will get plenty of support, even if totally wrong.

Below is more of my friend’s assessment of the administrator’s failed solutions and the manner in which they cover up the failures. Demand more from your school administrators.

I know some other teachers and I’d like to ask them if they see the same thing.  I think they probably do based on prior conversations.  The teachers generally see the problems clearly and the administrators don’t.

I’m sure a year of remote learning last school year only made things worse.  It was bad for my kids as well at the end of the 2019-20 school year.  Last school year was not too bad for us because our school made some good adjustments and were prepared for it.  This year with in-school learning is definitely better still.

Here is a recent summation I made of the situation in our school district. I’ve learned recently that these trends are nation-wide. Essentially we are penalized for disciplining kids or for holding them accountable over grades. Kids who misbehave and don’t care are allowed to ruin school for the kids who behave and want to learn. They’re coddled and allowed to remain in the classroom even after violent outbursts that put teachers and other students at risk. Administrators try to bribe kids with candy or prizes or privileges. The result is that the worse a kid behaves, the better he is treated in the school and there is little time left over from adults in the building for kids who work hard and treat the people around them with respect.

I first became aware of this trend about ten years ago when the district began to discourage us from writing up students. They also began to focus on and keep records of how many minority students were being written up. The push came at the beginning of that school year and there was a big “attaboy” at the end of the year because, sure enough, under pressure, we had reduced the number of referrals. Of course, the bad behavior didn’t change; we were just documenting less of it.

Academics have been in decline for a long time, too, as we don’t hold kids back anymore. About seven years ago, I had a failing 6th grade kid come to me in April asking if there was anything he could do to pass. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that there was nothing he could do or fail to do that would affect whether or not he would be promoted. He was guaranteed to go on to the 7th grade. This all got markedly worse about four years ago when our superintendent at the time tried to institute a policy so that you could not give a child less than a fifty on any assignment whether they even turned anything in or not. There was enough resistance from teachers that this policy was allowed to mercifully die.

A previous policy (still in place) does not allow a child to receive less than a fifty as an average for the quarter. The rationale (which I kind of understand) is that if the child suddenly decides in the 4th quarter to care, then there’s a chance to pull up the average and pass.

But, now, what difference does it make if they technically “pass” or not? They will be promoted either way.

Last year, the district began a push to bring back fifty as the lowest possible grade you can give a kid on any assignment. But they were clever enough to do it under a new name. Instead of traditional grades, we are supposed to be transitioning to a 1 through 4 system, with a 4 equaling 100 and 1 (our lowest option) equaling a fifty. They’re calling this the “mastery” system, ironically enough. Full on Doublespeak.

Dare to question such policies and you are deemed racist. Still, who cares what they think about us? They are failing our kids. My kids school, at least, doesn’t follow the nonsensical rules–because they don’t work: we fail kids when they don’t do well; we don’t bribe the kids who do the worst (in false hope they will do better). We demand kids live up to their capabilities because that’s what the real world expects. Labeling us, the ones who have been more successful, the true racists is far too easy. Unfortunately, the claim in itself is enough to convince many. Tear us down and you appear better among your echo chamber.

Nobody is excluded from our charter school. You get in via a lottery. Because it is the way, we can easily counter the racism argument. We provide everyone the same opportunity to attend. Claims of racism are a diversion, like such claims of racism almost always are these days.

Some kids can’t take the pressure of higher expectations at our school.  So be it. They don’t drop out because of race, however. They drop out because parents realize their kids can’t keep up; they go elsewhere where expectations are not so high.  To make everyone successful, you must eliminate all standards. Public schools are afraid of any limitation which will lead some students to failure. Why fear failure? There will always be some failures. If necessary, go somewhere else with lower standards and do better; maybe you can even be standout in a new environment. Most kids will adapt, however. The human race is remarkably adaptive, and kids especially so. When we don’t force kids to adapt, they often wind up failing.

More on Low Expectations

What are the expectations and challenges posed by your kids’ schools? How are your kids doing with those expectations? Are those expectations pushing them to do better?

Make consequences for failing (like receiving bad grades and not being promoted) and fewer will fail. Ignoring failure leads to more failure. You would think the smartest folks running our educational systems could discover this obvious truth, but apparently not. It doesn’t take much for the rest of us to realize these highly educated, highly paid folks are failing our society. They focus on the short term numbers, ones making themselves look good (if you accept such measures), at the expense of the kids they are responsible for. It is how the school prepares kids for the future that really matters.

My kids wouldn’t think of deliberately turning assignments in late or not turning them in at all.  They do homework on weekends and each day during the week.  They participate in sports as well and work late into the night to stay up-to-date after a contest.  I know many other kids work hard as well.  Kids complain, for sure, but for the most part, they couldn’t imagine a school where they are not challenged.  They are happy, I think even proud, to be part of a high achieving school. The pressure is real, but still beneficial. The alternative is something to be avoided.  Don’t complain about it being hard.

Kids understand about cutting players from teams and the best players getting more playing time. Being cut or riding the bench doesn’t mean you won’t have another chance the next year. In fact, it is good motivation to prove the coach wrong the next year. You have probably seen what happens when your coach doesn’t demand the best from the kids, Parents are very upset when it is clear the coach doesn’t care about winning. Likewise, get upset with the education administrators who don’t apply these standards. Speak out. Be heard. Demand more.

Many college kids do poorly their first year. Some were more serious the second year, realizing their mistakes. Others realized college wasn’t for them and moved on to something that suited them better. That’s how life is supposed to work. Again, it’s okay.

Failing is hard on your ego, but accomplishment is wonderful for it. A high school or college degree is meaningful only if it is difficult to obtain. Making it more accessible for all, makes it less meaningful for those who struggled to obtain their own degree.

I tell my kids all the time, “hard is good”. The things hardest to obtain are also the most meaningful. Overcoming challengesbrings the very best feelings. Some kids do much better after failing the first time. That’s the good result we are looking for. Others, just don’t care they failed; we do the best we can to reach these kids, but if they refuse to care for their own future, allow them to accept the consequences. Consequences teach as well. Changing the standard ruins things for all the rest.

Why is it All About Race?

Racism becomes the answer to whatever problem we face today. Blame racism and hate your political enemies for creating the problem. There is something in our human nature which leads us to a single unifying solution to solve any problem. If we could just get rid of systemic racism, all problems with education and all other societal woes would magically disappear.

We don’t need to change the playing field to suit one race or another. Instead, let’s have high expectations for all kids of all races. Racism may be the problem in a few instances, but usually it is just an excuse. Take the harder way. Otherwise, you won’t address the real problem, and the failed education system perpetuates.

The following study reveals there are larger gaps between whites and minorities in “progressive” cities than in conservative ones. The progressive solutions which argue for less stringent standards have not done as well. Conservative solutions, those from the so-called racist folks, generally demand better from kids, and are actually doing better to close the gaps between races. Go figure.

The report does not focus on recommendations, explanations, or solutions. Instead, it demonstrates we eliminate differences between the races by demanding more and raising standards (the conservative approach) rather than demanding less and lowering standards (the progressive approach). Here are the Cliff Notes:

Several conservative cities stand out for completely eliminating or reversing racial gaps in high school graduation rates:

  • The public school district of Anaheim, California graduates 86% of its high school students in four years. There are no meaningful racial graduation rate gaps in Anaheim. The graduation rate for black students in Anaheim is only 1 percentage point below the rate for white students and the rate for Latino students is identical to the rate for whites.
  • Fort Worth, Texas, similarly has no racial graduation rate gap for Latino students although the high school graduation rate for black students is 5 percentage points lower than the rate for white students, a not overwhelming difference.
  • The Oklahoma City public school district only graduates 73% of its high school students in four years but the graduation rate is 10 percentage points higher for black students than for white students and 5 percentage points higher for Latino students than for whites.
  • Virginia Beach, which stands out for its admirably low achievement gaps, graduates high school students at the highest rate in the study, at 93%, but with a black-white gap of 5 percentage points and a Latino-white gap of 2 points.

My liberal friend sent this link and we previously debated several of its points: 64 Examples of Systemic Racism Against Black Americans — Curious Refuge.  64 examples of why race is the problem to everything. We have only scratched the surface of this terribly wrong and deep seated belief. Many of the so-called racist findings need to be challenged. It may take us a lifetime to fix these false notions.


More on systemic racism:

2 thoughts on “The Bigotry of Low Expectations (and the Failure of the Systemic Racism Narrative)

  1. That’s the actual systemic racism, friend. The actual low expectations. Schools that have high expectations either (a) educate a majority white OR ethnically/racially diverse population with well educated parents, or (b) have figured out that THIS is the problem regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or any other metric and create a school culture accordingly, weeding out teachers who don’t operate in high expectations and having consequences for FAMILIES that don’t engage in the process.

    Schools that lack high expectations usually lack them BECAUSE of the population and the unspoken biases of the people who work there, who no longer live there, and who are in charge politically. 🥰


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