Jay Chilton | February 21, 2017

Educators, Policymakers Decry ‘Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations’

Jay Chilton

“One of the (Seminole school) board members looked at me and said, ‘Paul, your expectations are too high for these people,’” recalled Paul Campbell, founder and chairman of Advance Rural Education, before the State Board of Education voted unanimously Jan. 26 to approve a charter school application in Seminole.

With the vote, The Academy of Seminole was given the go-ahead to begin teaching a classical studies and STEM-based curriculum to the children of Seminole and surrounding areas. But the question of low expectations for the students of that area by members of the local school board still concerns Campbell.

“What (the board member) didn’t realize is that I grew up in a little podunk town in Kentucky,” he said. “My dad was a coal miner, so I am one of ‘these people.’ I consider myself successful, and I get up and do something I love every day.

“So, to make a long story short, that ticked me off.”

Campbell serves as the president and CEO of Enviro Systems, an aerospace manufacturing company located 2.5 miles north of downtown Seminole.

“It’s a prejudiced point of view,” Campbell continued. “One of my favorite quotes is, ‘Beware of the soft bigotry of low expectations,’ and this (attitude by Seminole Board of Education members) is the soft bigotry of low expectations. They just assume that because all (the students) have ever gotten was 19.5 (on the ACT), that’s the best they’re ever going to do.”


Democratic Lawmaker Regina Goodwin: ‘Lowering Expectations’ Is Not the Way Forward

State Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa, hosted a hearing Jan. 31 at the state Capitol to discuss changes to the A-F grading system used to rate school quality in Oklahoma. Some of those changes have come under fire due to the new formula’s use of race.

“There are many people from my district and throughout Oklahoma that don’t believe there should be separate markers for black kids and white kids,” Goodwin said. “We don’t want to compare students to students; we want students to achieve the standard.”

In addition to concern over the racial aspects of the changes, many of the hearing’s attendees expressed concerns that some schools would be given a higher grade without actually showing any academic improvement.

Examples of some of the factors taken into consideration when assigning a grade rating to the schools include the education level of the students’ parents and the number of students who live in a single-parent home where the parent is female.

“This manipulative formula purposely elevates schools whose students are not meeting academic standards,” Goodwin said in a press release. “Underfunding and lowering expectations are not the way forward. Instead, we must provide the resources and tools necessary to support our students, teachers, and administrators.”

Prior to the adoption of the new system, school grades were calculated based on student performance, overall student growth, and growth of students in the bottom quartile. Many of the changes were made to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, a new federal education law.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said that the new grading system offers multiple performance measuring criteria, stating that the changes were “very important.” She said the new system “corrects glaring shortcomings of the previous A-F system.”


Dr. Steve Perry: Many Public Education Officials Prefer Low Expectations

On Thursday, Jan. 26, Dr. Steve Perry provided the keynote address for the inaugural Oklahoma School Choice Summit at Oklahoma City Community College in Oklahoma City. Dr. Perry, founder of the Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut, described his experiences fighting low-expectation bigotry, and how that form of bigotry affects children in Oklahoma.

“I was born on my mother’s sixteenth birthday,” Perry said in a pre-recorded introduction, “third generation of poverty. Black. I don’t believe a life is determined by where you start, but where you finish.”

He started his speech by making clear that he believes students of any color, race, or origin can succeed at a high level and all kids need is an opportunity and an expectation to perform.

“There’s nothing wrong with the kids,” he stated. “Kids are made in Tulsa the same way they’re made in Hartford, (Conn.), the same way they’re made in New Haven and any other part of the country.

Perry continued to talk about an accepted false “truth” used to describe reasons for poor student performance in schools versus what he believes is the genuine truth, which he sought to explain to the attendees.

“So, the ‘truth’—as we’ve sometimes come to know it—is that poverty is the reason why children perform poorly. It is the fact that their parents are uninvolved that they perform poorly. It’s the system. It’s racism. It’s lions. It’s tigers. It’s bears.

“Everything except for what it really is,” he said. “Which is a system which is designed to ensure that poor people stay in communities where the schools are run with low expectations.

“The kid is not broken, they’re just not expected to learn much.”

Perry made the point that academic performance is not a racial issue.

“We were led to believe that the issue was between black and white, and it wasn’t,” he explained. “The issue was one of allowing people to live in a circumstance where the expectations were high. When we started our first school, what we did was to visit schools that had high expectations. Schools where wealthy kids went.

“And the fundamental differences that we saw were so glaring. The way people greeted us when we came there; they acted like they wanted to see us. Versus so many of the schools that our children attend—especially if they’re in an urban area—if they’re not being patted down, they’re being stared down.

“Low expectation after low expectation, it’s run like a prison. Is there any reason why the school-to-prison pipeline exists?”
Perry said many current leaders in public education seek to maintain the low-expectation system.

“You see, we need to keep the system in place to keep the expectations low so that you don’t put accountability high on the employees,” he said. “The reason they’re out there protesting is because they want their money.

“This is about union money; this is not about your children. If it was about your children, then only the highest-performing schools would be open today. Only that would be the measure of whether a school is a school, not by how many people would lose their jobs.

“It’s about this insidious, deep-seated racism by our friends who call themselves liberals, used to explain away what is clearly a racist and classist system that has destroyed generations.


OCPA President Jonathan Small: ‘Many Boys Who Look Like Me Haven’t Been Spared’

Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, previously spent six years working for a voluntary program in the Oklahoma City Public Schools. He sat down with CIJ to recall what he saw during his time there.

“My view of Dr. Steve Perry’s message at the School Choice Summit is shaped by my time serving in Oklahoma City Public Schools,” Small said. “For almost six years I worked with an extensive volunteer program, which really tried to help students develop life and social skills to help them respond to things the right way and make good decisions.

“I immediately noticed something during my time working in OKCPS. Special education—MR classes, as they were referred to—had high numbers of young black boys in them. And what was astonishing to me was that, often, these boys didn’t have any problem whatsoever. Yet, somehow, they were classified in a special ed class.

“It has since been determined and noted that OKCPS was under a civil rights investigation, along with the former superintendent, specifically for fraudulent enrollment of black students in individual education plans (special education).”

He went on to say that such a classification provided higher funding from the federal government and that the dollars reaped from the program were not reinvested into the program for the boys who were classified in that way. Rather, the moneys were spread throughout the district.

“I personally identified with Dr. Perry’s concern that the current school system is more focused on funding the current system than making sure that funds meet the needs of students.

“All one needs to do,” Small said, “is look at KIPP Academy, or several schools that take the DC voucher, where minority students leave the traditional public school system two and three grades behind and then attend these new schools that are geared toward the needs of the minority students. They catch up more than one grade in a year.

“Many of (the students) are set on a path where they go to college. While their friends and family members are left behind.”

Small said all children learn differently. “Some children, their home life is so chaotic, that what they need is a highly scheduled, highly regulated, highly regimented program like you would find at a KIPP Academy or some sort of private school or some sort of boarding school. Other kids need a teacher that can shape the learning in such a way that they respond to it and learn from it.

“The cookie-cutter approach to the public school system does not provide for that.”

Small finished the conversation on a personal note.

“It was thought that when I was going to enter school I was going to have some developmental issues and challenges in school. Thankfully, my parents made a gigantic sacrifice.

“My mom decided to not go back into the workforce and I was home-schooled. I was spared what many boys who look like me haven’t been spared.”

Jay Chilton

Independent Journalist

Jay Chilton is a multiple-award-winning photojournalist including the Oklahoma Press Association’s Photo of the Year in 2013. His previous service as an intelligence operative for the U.S. Army, retail and commercial sales director, oil-field operator and entrepreneur in three different countries on two continents and across the U.S. lends a wide experience and context helping him produce well-rounded and complete stories. Jay’s passion is telling stories. He strives to place the reader in the seat, at the event, or on the sideline allowing the reader to experience an event through his reporting. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from the University of Central Oklahoma with a minor in photographic arts. Jay and his wife live in Midwest City with three dogs and innumerable koi enjoying frequent visits from their children.

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