Critics: Kansas City Public Schools exhibits ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’ in giving all students at least 40%, even on schoolwork not done

Kansas City, Missouri Public Schools is epitomizing “the soft bigotry of low expectations” by giving all students at least 40% credit on all tests and assignments – even ones that aren’t turned in.

That’s the assessment of education analyst Dave Trabert, chief executive officer of the Kansas Policy Institute, who is quoting former President George W. Bush.

Bush, in a 2000 speech to the 91st annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, warned that low expectations of minority students is a new form of discrimination.

KCPS announced to staff in a PowerPoint last week that its new grading policy will prohibit any scores lower than 40%, even if a student doesn’t complete or even turn in assigned work.

“KCPS is demonstrating what President George W. Bush called ‘the soft bigotry of low expectations,’” Trabert writes in an email to The Heartlander. “Students can and will learn if district leaders set high expectations.

“The outcomes at Sumner Academy in Kansas City, Kansas, demonstrate this,” he adds, pointing to a success story just across the state line from KCPS. “In 2022, only 14% of Sumner students were below grade level in math, and 27% were proficient, whereas the district average was 69% below grade level and 5% proficient.

“The difference is that Sumner Academy is a public magnet school that sets admission standards; students must have good grades, good behavior and good attendance.

“KCPS management is only setting students up for a lifetime of underachievement with this new policy.”

A KCPS employee wishing to remain anonymous shared a similar sentiment with The Heartlander:

“I feel they should get the grade they earn based on their merit. If they don’t do the work, they shouldn’t get the credit.

“We’re not teaching them true work ethic that translates to the real world if we’re telling them it’s OK to not turn in your work – or if they turn it in late and then still get to pass either way. In the real world, that wouldn’t fly. You’d lose your job!”

Local author and Heartlander contributor Jack Cashill has his own choice words for the grading changes in the district, which once was ordered by federal courts to spend several billion to improve and desegregate its schools.

“While we’re at it,” Cashill says of the lowered grade standards, “why not lower the baskets to nine feet in the school gym or double the size of the soccer nets? Sports would seem to be the only part of the public school experience in which standards are upheld and attendance demanded.

“Judge Russell Clark spent $2 billion in taxpayer money in a misbegotten attempt to get the KC public schools up to the 50th percentile level among all districts. Maybe he should have settled for the 10th percentile.”

“Instead of successfully schooling our children,” adds state Rep. Aaron McMullen, “we have failed them – moving the goalpost to pass the students on without a proper education, setting students up for failure when they transition to the workforce. Deadlines, attendance and quality of work are all principles that are taught in schools that translate to a successful career.

“Kansas City will no longer have well-informed citizens or a ready workforce in the near future as a direct result of this policy. Missouri must move away from funding systems and fund individual students to reclaim our education system.”

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