Not-so-soft bigotry rears its ugly head in Senate education committee

In a 1999 speech laying out his education priorities, George Bush famously used the line “the soft bigotry of low expectations” to describe America’s general acceptance of lower academic achievement for minorities. That speech eventually led to the enactment of No Child Left Behind, federal legislation with the ambitious goal of getting all students to grade level in reading and math by 2013.

No Child Left Behind was watered down significantly, missed its 2013 goal and the country still faces huge achievement gaps between students of color and white students. In many ways, Minnesota leads the nation in that achievement gap.

Yesterday in a State Senate Education Committee hearing on a school choice bill, the bigotry of low expectations reared its ugly head again in the form of comments from DFL Senator Jason Isaacson. After hearing impassioned testimony in favor of school choice from several minority parents, Sen. Isaacson awkwardly tried to make a point comparing Minneapolis with the school district he represents, Moundsview.

You have to look at Minneapolis compared to Moundsview. They’re spending approximately the same amount per student, so we know money isn’t the equalizer. When you look at the realities of Moundsview and Minneapolis, there’s a lot of different socioeconomics going on there, and frankly different demographics. And that makes that a really difficult comparison.

What is Isaacson trying to say here? What socioeconomic or demographic factors is he referring to? Convince me he’s not talking about race. Let’s just say it ­– Isaacson is arguing it’s unfair to compare Minneapolis to Moundsview because there are a lot more minority students in Minneapolis than North Oaks and Shoreview. And since there are more minority students, their academic achievement is going to be lower. That’s the soft bigotry of low expectations. Put another way, that’s racist.

The whole equity movement in schools today is based on low expectations and systemic excuse-making for large groups of people based on their “socioeconomics.” What does a student hear when everyone from State Senators to kindergarten teachers tell them they can’t succeed, or the system is rigged against them because of the group they belong to or the color of their skin?

If a conservative claims success or failure in Minneapolis is based on race, they get cancelled. When a liberal like Isaacson makes the same claim, he’s woke. He’s an ally.

Students in Minneapolis don’t need allies like Jason Isaacson – they need hope, high expectations and accountability. And if they can’t get that in the public school system, they need the ability (and funding) to choose an alternative.

Isaacson’s full remarks can be viewed here:

Sen. Isaacson began his remarks with this factually incorrect statement:  

Over the last 20 years, we haven’t even kept up with basic inflation for our schools.

The key word in the statement is “basic.” Basic inflation is commonly referred to as the Consumer Price Index (CPI). But the education establishment prefers to use an obscure inflation index known as the Implicit Price Deflator (IPD). The IPD is not “basic” inflation.

Also, as we reported last fall in Allergic to Accountability, total revenue per pupil in Minnesota has consistently increased since 2003 – both adjusted for inflation and not adjusted for inflation. According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data, Minnesota spends on average $12,975 per student each year.

Sen. Isaacson probably didn’t read our education report because it turns out he has a very low opinion of Center of the American Experiment. Near the end of his comments, he made an ad hominem attack on the Center saying:

And to have people from the Center of the American Experiment, which is just a joke to begin with is ridiculous. I can’t take their propaganda seriously, ever.

Education Policy Fellow Catrin Wigfall delivered fact-based testimony, citing numerous empirical studies from around the country about the success of school choice programs like the one being debated by the committee. Instead of challenging anything she said, Isaacson called her testimony a “joke.” Happy International Women’s Day indeed.