Oregon’s Racist Attack on the Dignity and Futures of Minority Students

When the Woke Left destroys the dignity and futures of blacks, Latinos, and other marginalized minorities, they call it equity. But racism by any other name just plain stinks.

In a year of Woke racist government actions targeting whites and Asians, one of the most unsettling acts of government bigotry instead targets the dignity and futures of the people to whom the Woke have pledged their fealty: black and other minority children.

Confounded by weak academic performance of minority students, the Oregon governor, legislature, and Department of Education (ODE) punted on trying to help them learn, but instead purged the problem by eviscerating the state’s educational standards.

Cue the stentorian announcer: In a world in which math, the SAT, getting the right answer, and being on time are rejected as white supremacy, Oregon has come to fix the deficiencies in its high schools by blaming them on racism. It will make the problems disappear by simply eliminating grades and proficiency in reading, writing, and math as requirements for graduation.

In doing so, Oregon has sent an unmistakable message that it has no confidence in the ability of its minority students to learn, and that the solution is to make this someone else’s problem. Concurrently, Oregon is doing precisely the same thing to underperforming Asian and white students, though there is no evidence Oregon’s governor, legislature, or education department gave any thought to the needs of its white students, or more than lip service to the needs of its Asian students.

If you can’t measure problems, they don’t exist. Right?

Shimmering effect as the scene dissolves and we are back in 2020 . . .

Spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, in March 2020, Oregon Governor Kate Brown closed down in-person schooling throughout Oregon. Despite assertions that distance learning works, Governor Brown concluded that the “learning” part was not, in fact, occurring, particularly for minority students. Balancing the alternatives of returning to the classroom, improving Oregon’s distance learning program, having some students repeat the schoolyear, or washing her hands of seniors who can’t read, write, or do math, Governor Brown chose the latter.

In April 2020, the Oregon Department of Education published Graduation Pathways 2020. The 25-page policy guidance explained “ODE’s guidance for seniors during this time of school closure centers on Care, Connection, and Continuity of Learning which requires an equity stance.” (emphasis in original). ODE added (again, emphasis in original):

ODE strives to live into our equity stance: Education equity is the equitable implementation of policy, practices, procedures, and legislation that translates into resource allocation, education rigor, and opportunities for historically and currently marginalized youth, students, and families including civil rights protected classes. This means the restructuring and dismantling of systems and institutions that create the dichotomy of beneficiaries and the oppressed and marginalized.

The steps ODE took to restructure and dismantle its systems and institutions included assigning seniors Pass/Incomplete for all courses impacted by school closure and suspending all Essential Skills and Personalized Learning requirements for seniors.

The ODE website defines the three Essential Skills previously required for graduation as:

  • Read and comprehend a variety of text
  • Write clearly and accurately
  • Apply mathematics in a variety of settings

ODE mandated that “If any senior is determined to be failing a course at the date of school closure and assigned an incomplete, the district shall provide opportunities to that senior to improve to a passing grade commensurate with peers who were determined to have ‘passed’ or met proficiency by the same date. The student should not have to start the class over or be held to a higher standard than other seniors who ‘passed’ the same course.” ODE directed that a “D” would be a passing grade.

In effect, ODE eliminated its graduation requirement that students achieve a grade point average of at least 2.5 (C+/B-) and replaced it with a D.

To ensure no local school board could require more rigorous graduation requirements, ODE declared that its guidance would “supersede local decision making.”

Incredibly, in the name of “equity,” Oregon suspended the requirement that its high school graduates be able to read, write, do math, or, for the most part, obtain a passing grade point average. Equity is one of those words whose meaning has been changed by progressives. The term now means overcoming purported white privilege by imposing equality of outcome. The purpose of ODE’s action was to make it so easy to graduate that disparities in performance would be neutralized.

Then, in June 2021, with unanimous support of Democrats and one Republican, the Oregon Legislative Assembly passed Senate Bill 744. The bill orders ODE to review requirements for high school graduation by engaging with representatives of marginalized minorities and then develop recommendations “with the goal of ensuring that the processes and outcomes related to the requirements for high school diplomas are equitable, accessible and inclusive.”

SB 744 also provides that “a student may not be required to show proficiency in Essential Learning Skills as a condition of receiving a high school diploma during the 2021-2022, 2022-2023 or 2023-2024 school year[s].”

Testimony in support of SB 744 focused on the difficulty minority students had performing well in school, and the notion that allowing students to graduate with their class was more important than their education. Testimony objected that Oregon was one of only 11 states that required testing for graduation. Some proponents of SB 744 asserted, without evidence, that testing did not predict future success. Many of those testifying expressed concern that the higher failure rate for minority students caused them stress and resulted in “inequity,” meaning that regardless of whether there was an equal opportunity to learn, the outcome was not racially proportionate.

Some supporters of SB 744 observed that eliminating the testing requirement did not change the requirement that students complete classes. That obfuscates the facts. There are no specific writing or reading modules in Oregon high schools, or, in the absence of testing, any way to assess math knowledge. Graduation requires no learning when the required grade point average is effectively a D.

ODE endorsed SB 744, noting: “While we have made strides in our graduation rates, especially among our students who identify as Latino/a/x, African American/Black, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian American/Pacific Islanders, and Emergent Bilingual/English Language Learners, we still have a long ways to go towards the goal of achieving equity for our students.” Hence, ODE again focused on race and the outcome, not whether Oregon’s students are learning or qualified, or are being prepared to live productive lives.

Governor Brown signed SB 744 into law last month, though her actions did not become public until last week when the Oregon legislative database was belatedly updated. A spokesman for the governor told the Washington Examiner that the new standards would aid Oregon’s “Black, Latino, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, Tribal, and students of color.” That “aid” is apparently is to abandon even the pretense of teaching and to graduate unprepared students.

Papering over the problem of inadequate schools by watering down or eliminating standards to equalize outcomes is not new. Some colleges no longer require, or accept, ACT or SAT scores because many minority students underperform. While research shows that unavailability of coaching and AP programs, as well as the obligation of many underprivileged children to perform household chores, contributes to lower ACT and SAT scores, the effect is measurable. Adjusting ACT and SAT scores for the difference can restore the predictive value of these tests. Eliminating the tests is virtue signaling aimed at justifying racial preferences for unqualified applicants.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the sole funder disclosed for A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction, which according to its homepage provides “resources and guidance to support Black, LatinX, and Multilingual students thrive in grades 6-8” and offers educators “opportunities for ongoing self-reflection as they seek to develop an anti-racist math practice.” The toolkit helps “educators as they navigate the individual and collective journey from equity to anti-racism.”

Among issues Pathway identifies as racist are expecting the right answer; independent practice; teaching in a linear fashion; procedural fluency; and requesting that students show their work. Instead of offering alternatives intended to help minority students learn how to do math and come to the correct answer, Pathway essentially advocates that schools discontinue teaching math and use numbers to motivate anti-racist discussions of social justice.

In its July 14, 2021, Mathematics Framework, the California Department of Education lays out a timeline for revising the state’s mathematics framework for grades K-12 based on Pathway. The draft Framework rejects the incontrovertible fact that some children are more gifted than others and calls for de-emphasizing calculus and eliminating classes for gifted children in grades 6-12. The draft Framework also directs teachers to use math for political discussions about “marginalized communities” and to move away from focusing on correct methods or answers.

As with SB 744 and the elimination of the ACT and SAT, the Pathway to Equitable Math and California’s draft Framework put equality of outcome ahead of learning for students of all races and ethnicities. The implicit assumption is that blacks and other minorities are incapable of learning, so to equalize the outcome, no one should learn. This is mind-boggling bigotry and stupidity of the highest order.

Eliminating requirements, test scores, and gifted classes to equalize outcomes is straight out of Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron. For those not familiar with the book or movie versions, Harrison Bergeron depicts a dystopian future in which the government ensures everyone is equal by requiring the strong to wear weights, those with good eyes to wear glasses that distort their sight, and the intelligent to wear noisemakers that disturb their thoughts.

Racial preferences and DEI initially might find college admissions and jobs for unqualified or under-skilled minority graduates. If the Woke have their way, minorities might face a lifetime of undeserved jobs, but no dignity or self-sufficiency. What uneducated victims of this ideology will do when they need reading, writing, or arithmetic in their day-to-day lives is ignored. If schools cease trying to teach children (of all races), and admission and employment outcomes are determined by social engineering, there is no way to avoid the rise of an elite class of rich, privately educated overlords, and a mass of serfs who wrongly believe they have skills that they lack and are incapable of raising themselves up by hard work.

Because the affluent are disproportionately, but not exclusively, white, and minority students disproportionately underperform in school, the ineluctable result is a permanent underclass of minorities beholden to the government for legal and financial support. Perhaps that’s the goal. Equality for all, except the affluent and Ivy League-educated overlords.

America was once the envy of the world for our education system. Now, we are a laughingstock, as the enemy within corrodes, corrupts, and destroys our meritocracy, competitiveness, and future. There is only so much more the system can take before the speed and depth of the of descent is irreversible.

Image: M.O. Stevens, Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, cropped.


  • Kenin M. Spivak

    Kenin M. Spivak, a lifetime member of the National Association of Scholars, is founder and chairman of SMI Group LLC, an international consulting firm and investment bank. Spivak was chairman of two publishers and of the Editorial Board of the Knowledge Exchange Business Encyclopedia. He regularly contributes to National Review, The American Mind, and other publications. He received an A.B., M.B.A., and J.D. from Columbia University.

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4 thoughts on “Oregon’s Racist Attack on the Dignity and Futures of Minority Students

  1. Thanks for appreciating my main point. It is hard for people of all stripes to admit or recognize that only half the students are going to be above average.

    I wish I were as optimistic about charter schools as you (and Thomas Sowell). From what I can tell, the benefits are modest, especially if one makes honest apple-to-apple comparisons. I support them (as well as private schools, and vouchers). But I believe the impacts are likely to be modest. I say this partly out of my own experience of having attending a variety of schools, public and private, from kindergarten through graduate school.

    Are there failing school districts? Probably. But I would guess the failure is more of the parents and the culture. To put it bluntly, fill those “failing” inner city schools with the children of Asian immigrants, and you’d soon be hearing about how great those schools are. Sure, when you have parents of students in failing schools going to the effort of getting them into charter schools, those students probably do better. The question is how do you get all of the parents to be like these select parents. I know that I don’t have the answer to that.

  2. This Oregon law is, of course, an alarming development by any measure. But one wonders if in fact this new low standard (or lack of standard) for high school graduation has effectively been state educational policy for some time. That is, does the new law simple codify or legalize what has de facto been the policy for some time? If so, a cynic concludes that it’s only mildly of interest in the larger wokeness of K-12 education. One would have to research the data to answer this question, but I suspect that the de facto reality has been the case for some time.

  3. This move on Oregon’s part would hardly be news except for the incredibly stupid statement from the governor’s spokesperson about minority students. Here’s what Education Week says about exit exams and the states:

    “Thirteen states require students to pass a test to get a high school diploma, one more than in 2017. In some states, students can use projects or portfolios to meet this requirement. Exit exams used to be more popular: In 2002, more than half the states required them.”

    So apparently Oregon will not be that unusual. The state certainly doesn’t seem to be remarkable on the NAEP exams — neither unusually good or bad.

    Face it, the bottom fifth of students anywhere are basket cases — exit exams or not. There is a lot of pressure to pass them through to a high school diploma, whether they have much capability or not.

    We have incredibly mixed messaging in the U.S. On the one hand, we want everyone to get a high school diploma. On the other hand, we want to pretend to have standards. But the bottom fifth or those 1 standard deviation below average cognitively — the bottom 15%, or equivalently IQ 85 or below — simply are not likely to meet any kind of a high standard.

    1. I agree that there are weak students at every school. However, the question is “at some schools, is the explanation for weak students a disproportionate percent of students one standard deviation or more below the mean or, to a great extent, a failure of that specific school district?” As Thomas Sowell has demonstrated with a tsunami of date, using excellent control variables, students in a charter school in the same building as a traditional public school outperform.
      Consistent with your overall thesis, President “W” Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” was mind-numbingly dumb. My favorite high school teacher told me a few years after I graduated about a high school senior she passed even though he could not read. He was not in “special ed.” She told me she resented that he had been passed by so many other teachers but did not want to be the one accused of holding him back by giving him a failing grade.

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