Oregon Democrats Resurrect the ‘Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations’

It’s an education headline that, even in 2021, demands a double take: “Gov. Kate Brown signed a law to allow Oregon students to graduate without proving they can write or do math.”

Brown, Oregon’s Democratic governor, had quietly signed Senate Bill 744 into law last month, discarding the requirement that high school graduates be able to demonstrate an ability to read, write, and do math at a high school level. A spokesman for Brown explained that this would benefit “Oregon’s Black, Latino, Latina, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, Tribal, and students of color.” For those confused about the logic, he added that the state needed “equitable graduation standards, along with expanded learning opportunities and supports.”

This is a story that’s as dangerous as it is silly. It’s hard to think of a policy more threatening to minority kids than the insistence that it’s okay for them to graduate without being able to read. Indeed, it’s hard to think of much that’s more obviously offensive than the suggestion that expecting all high school grads to be literate and numerate is somehow racially suspect. This is  especially true against the backdrop of the pandemic, a time when low-income and minority students have been hit particularly hard by a year of haphazard remote learning, stop-and-start schooling, and socially distanced interaction. If students are to recover from the staggering disruptions of the pandemic, schools need to buckle down to engage and educate kids—not lower (or eliminate) expectations in the name of “equity.”

The pandemic’s social and emotional toll has been brutal for students. The same is true when it comes to academics. A new McKinsey analysis reports that students this year were, on average, four months behind in reading and five months behind in mathematics compared to where they’d normally be—with even bigger shortfalls for schools serving black, Latino, or low-income kids. And then there were all the students who fell off their school’s radar last year—including perhaps a quarter of the nation’s 12 million marginalized students.  

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