Labor Watch

Teachers Unions and the Lowering of Standards: Teaching in Compton

Teachers Unions and the Lowering of Standards (full series)
Teaching in Compton | Behavior Standards
Academic Standards | Black Education Success Stories

Summary: Teachers unions are pushing to lower the academic and behavioral standards of America’s public school students, especially for minority children. Yet there is no need for these lax policies, as there are plenty of historical and contemporary examples of minority children rising to high expectations when they are demanded. Teachers unions have also pushed for limiting the use of SROs (school resource officers) in the name of social justice, regardless of how these policies affect the safety of public schools. Far from helping minority students, these attitudes are just another example of the bigotry of low expectations.

Teaching in Compton

My first job as a teacher was in Compton, California, at Kennedy Elementary. I will never forget pulling up for that first day to the giant school building that looked like a fortress. One way in, one way out. The school was close to “the projects,” and we often had lockdowns whenever the police were arresting someone nearby who was considered a high flight risk. During one particular lockdown, we had to stay in our classrooms with our students for two hours after the end of the school day.

I was taking over as director of an after-school program. During the day, I would tutor small groups and run an academic intervention after-school program for 70 students. I was definitely in over my head as a 23-year-old freshly graduated teacher. I was expected to help the students catch up in their reading and math with the assistance of two aides, but I was lucky if they both showed up on the same day. On one unlucky day, I had to run the whole program with 70 students alone. I marched them all to the cafeteria, set up stations, and tried my best not to lose my mind.

The school was overwhelmingly black and Hispanic, with almost all the children coming from low-income families. How should they be taught? How high should the standards be for them? Should students from disadvantaged backgrounds, like my former students at Kennedy Elementary, be held to the same high academic and behavioral standards as kids from more privileged socioeconomic groups? Ask these questions today, and you will get widely different answers. Parents say one thing, and teachers say another. Other ethnic groups have differing opinions. As we shall see, the teachers unions are firmly on the side of lowering the standards for behavior and academics, especially for poor black and brown kids.

Teachers unions have led the push to lower the standards in our public schools nationwide. To be fair, many people do this with good intentions, arguing that black and brown children need lowered standards because of historical oppression or systemic racism. Proponents who want the standards dropped will say that this is how to level the playing field and bring equity to an unjust nation.

But what will happen if they get their wish? Standardized tests like the SAT will no longer be a requirement to get into college. Suspending a willfully defiant child, even for cussing out the teacher, will be seen as racist if the student is black. Homework will no longer be required. If it is, it can’t count against a student’s grade. Students can have poor attendance and complete little work but still will be allowed to pass because the teacher considers their various oppressions. These aren’t just speculations. Much of this is a reality today in public schools nationwide.

Is this really what’s best for our nation’s children?

Let’s examine the proposed policies of the teachers unions, with their push for lowered behavioral and academic expectations and standards, their results, and the counterarguments.

In the next installment, teachers unions work to lower behavioral standards by limiting disciplinary actions, especially against minority students.

Kali Fontanilla

Kali is serving as CRC’s Senior fellow, particularly focusing on topics related to K-12 public education. She has 15 years of experience as a credentialed educator working in public and…
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