Labor Watch

Teachers Unions and the Lowering of Standards: Academic Standards

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

Academic Standards: The Fight Against Standardized Tests

A similar disposition of low academic standards has become popular among left-wing progressive circles today and is promoted by teachers unions. Standardized tests are just one example, but a key indicator in the general tone of lowered expectations for students. Their union state chapters organized against standardized tests in 27 states, hosting showings of a documentary critical of testing called Standardized,” holding rallies, and conducting petition drives.

In a New York Times article entitled Teacher’s Unions Fight Standardized Testing, and Find Diverse Allies, Secky Fascione, director of organizing for the NEA, said “reining in testing was the union’s top” priority. Why?

Tracking motives behind policy decisions can be a messy task. But the basic principles of bias are usually the same, and the teachers unions are not exempt from human nature. Their goals are often to serve their members rather than children.

Standardized tests have been a hot-button issue for years, with various groups opposed and supportive of more and higher standards for school testing. Interestingly, this issue makes for strange bedfellows with groups who would not normally align working together against standardized testing, albeit for different reasons. Conservative groups generally oppose the Common Core Standards and the overemphasis on testing that comes with it on the grounds that it constitutes a federal overreach. Parents don’t want their children to spend all their time in school in what many argue isn’t real education but rather teachers “teaching to the test.”

But teachers unions oppose standardized testing for their own reasons: to avoid accountability of their members, the teachers. “The unions are not acting out of concern for children but are trying to undercut efforts to institute tougher evaluations.” “It’s an effort to undermine accountability,” says Jonah Edelman, the chief executive of Stand for Children.

Whatever the reasons for opposing standardized tests, the results are the same: lowering the standards for our nation’s children.

The Bigotry of Low Expectations

It may be argued that standardized tests are only one aspect of education, and thus our thesis that teachers unions and other left-wing progressive institutions are pushing for lower standards isn’t wholly accurate. Detractors may also, quite accurately, point out that the movement against standardized tests isn’t limited to educational progressives and teachers unions, as we have seen. Both are valid points and would be strong arguments if we were to ignore the larger picture of lowered expectations among the entire teaching profession and our public schools at large. Standardized tests aren’t the only area of low expectations.

We’ve already looked at lowering behavioral expectations, which is part of this mosaic of lowered standards, but to further paint the picture, consider standards for writing and communication in our public schools. Proper English used to be held up as a goal of our educational system. A radical idea, I know. Now? Teachers are increasingly encouraged to consider Ebonics or other slang on an equal footing academically and as another valid expression of student culture. An expression it may be, but it’s not proper English, and we aren’t doing our children any favors by such pandering. It’s called the bigotry of low expectations, and frankly, as a minority myself, it’s insulting. Our black and brown kids can learn to speak and write using proper English.

Even in my teacher preparation program, these ridiculous ideas were taught to us as “cutting edge” and backed by the “latest studies.” To be quite honest, I don’t care how many studies you show me; it will never override the common sense and knowledge of generations of educational history that shows students from any background can learn proper English. Slang, like Ebonics, does not need to be taught or countenanced in an academic setting.

Another example of these low expectations I’ve seen in my teaching experience happened during the COVID lockdowns. In our district in California, most students went entirely online for a year. From March until the end of the school year in 2020, we were told not to give students any graded assignments unless the assignments raised their grades. None of the assignments we gave from March until June 2020 could count against a student’s grade. For example, if students had a letter C grade when schools shut down in March, they could turn in nothing else the rest of the school year, more than two months of school, and not lose their C grade. If they chose to, they could complete the distance learning assignments and raise their grade higher, but never below that original C. Human nature being what it is, as soon as students figured this out, many stopped doing any work, and a large percentage simply stopped showing up for online school altogether. It was a disaster.

The reasoning for this was that it would not be fair and equitable for students who did not have access to home internet to expect them to do any work. It didn’t matter that the school district offered free Wi-Fi hotspots and other options like physical books and assignments printed for them.

The logical end to the teachers unions’ obsession with “equity” is a race to the bottom for all to accommodate the few. It was a perfect example of how crisis reveals the natural character of people. When push came to shove, the teachers unions and district administration defaulted to low standards and no accountability. Equity was seen as more important than education. The time lost can never be regained. Those students will only be sophomores, 8th graders, etc. once.

In the next installment, minority students—like all students—rise to the occasion when challenged by high academic and behavioral standards.

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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