Just this week, the Lieutenant Governor —and candidate for Governor—Ralph Northam (D) in Virginia demonstrated precisely why we must get uncomfortable (and then get loud) and the Washington Post’s editorial board was right to raise the alarm about what he had to say about school accountability and standards.
Mr. Northam claimed to believe in accountability but was utterly unable to explain what he means by the word. The state’s Standards of Learning (SOL), which establish minimum expectations for what students should know and be able to do, aren’t working, he said, and should be tossed out. What would replace them? Astonishingly, after almost four years as lieutenant governor and a month away from the election, Mr. Northam had no answer.
But even more disconcerting—appalling actually— are his beliefs about the expectations we should have for students. Also from the Washington Post:
Particularly concerning was Mr. Northam’s view that because children are diverse, “coming from different backgrounds and different regions,” he’s “not sure that it’s fair” to give them all the same test; they shouldn’t be penalized, he said, for the environment they come from. The suggestion that some students should be required to pass one type of assessment, while others are given a different (presumably more rigorous) one, is disconcerting. There is no question that some children come to school handicapped by circumstances not experienced by their better-advantaged peers, but children do better when there are high expectations. Creating different expectations for children does them no favors; it just allows adults to escape responsibility. To borrow a phrase from the history we revisited with Mr. Northam, it is the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” Once again, schools and the grown-ups who work in them will be excused and applauded as they graduate poor black students who are not prepared for work or college.