In November, NPR uncovered a graduation scandal at Ballou High Schoolin Washington, D.C., where half the graduates missed more than 90 days of school. Administrators pressured teachers to pass failing students, including those whom teachers had barely seen.
Policy wonks have had a field day with the report, adding graduation scandals to their lists of top 2018 education stories to watch and questioning the value of a high school diploma.
The one group of people who were not surprised by the scandal: teachers.
George W. Bush once claimed that as president, he would challenge the “soft bigotry of low expectations” in our nation’s classrooms by raising the K-12 education standards for of all America’s children. But in the past two decades, the soft bigotry of low expectations hasn’t been challenged; it’s been masked by grade and graduation inflation. And these low expectations are not isolated in our nation’s most impoverished schools.
Four years ago, when I began my teacher training, a tenured teacher gave me some advice: “Just give them a D; it’ll be so much extra work for you to fail anyone.” At the time, I thought it was strange wisdom, but soon I learned that it’s part of the “common sense” of survival in the world of teachers.
I worked in Fairfax County Public Schools, a more affluent, higher-performing district near Washington, where pressure to inflate grades and ensure students pass was ingrained. These district-encouraged, sometimes administrator-enforced grading policies still make me cringe.
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