Letting those other kids lag behind: a principal responds to the new “differentiated” standards

I’m re-posting a comment from charter school director Carolyn Sharette here, in hopes that her stinging words will reach more readers . . . and touch more consciences.

She’s responding to my blog reports that the great majority of states, including Utah, have asked for and won federal government approval to set lower educational standards for minority kids.

In her comments, Ms. Sharette mentions that some schools – and yes, most are charters – have beaten the odds and helped these same minority kids achieve results that suburban school districts would envy. If you want to see some evidence, check out this op-ed from Friday’s Wall Street Journal:

New York City recently released official progress reports for the city’s 1,230 schools, including measures of how each school compares with other schools that have similar students. The reports provide yet more proof that charter schools—which outperformed traditional public schools by a wide margin—are working. Eight of the top 11 elementary and middle schools by student performance are charters, and four of those charters are in Harlem.


Here’s Carolyn Sharette’s comment:

I have waited a couple of weeks to opine about the development of setting different benchmarks for different ethnicities because it is breathtakingly awful, wrongheaded and shocking. Having such an emotional response, I realized I needed to take some time to ponder and listen to advocates of such a racist policy. I have read the reports out of Florida, listened to the justifications by legislators and school chiefs, and have tried and tried to open my mind to this idea – to no avail.

It is simply wrong on a moral and ethical basis to separate out subgroups and set different standards. If there were some benefit to it – some value – that would create a “means justifying the ends” perhaps it would be worth the terrible damage it does. Alas, there is no such value to simply wrongheaded thinking.

From my viewpoint, NCLB provided a way for us to SEE that subgroups were being left behind at greater rates than others. This was VERY valuable, as it forced us, as a nation, to see what was happening and face it. Some amazing educators got busy, opening charter schools in inner cities and trying to learn what the best practices were for the populations suffering the achievement gap. Pockets of mainstream public schools also made some significant progress. What should have happened: their successes and failures should have been studied from a data-intensive view. Variables should have been studied. Dissemination of effective programs and practices to other schools with strong implementation and management support, and directives if necessary, should have been the next step.

What really happened? Great work was done. Some schools have learned how to close the achievement gap. Instead of being studied and copied, they are marginalized, criticized, and shut out with ridiculous excuses like “well, charters cream students” or “they have more money” or any one of multiple useless excuses that allow people to ignore the only important factors- WHAT are they teaching, WHEN are they teaching it, and HOW are they teaching kids to mastery?

So, we have a decade of answers, all being ignored by the mainstream education world. Minority kids are failing and dropping out in great, tragic numbers. What is their latest and greatest idea? LOWER THE EXPECTATIONS for minority kids. WHAT???

Their justification: NCLB required 100%. It was not “realistic”. Lowering it to a more “realistic” number will do exactly what? Suddenly produce the curriculum and pedagogy and expertise in schools that will get them to the standard? In this new approach, they are implying that it was the 100% that was holding them back from doing the right thing for kids. Ridiculous. And very harmful to our kids to have different standards depending upon their race. And, may I add, very harmful for teachers as well.

The problem is the same it has been for 10 years and the answer is VERY simple. If a school has the will and the expertise, it can teach kids to mastery. We know this. If it doesn’t, it can’t. We MUST focus on those 2 things – will and expertise. First, we determine which they lack (perhaps both) and then address it.

The expertise exists as demonstrated in many successful at-risk schools nationwide. Under-performing schools must be forced to adopt successful programs and methods (expertise) and change their will if need be.

Thinking that changing the standard will somehow make any positive difference is just one more distraction from doing what must be done: at this point it is clear that some (many) schools must be forced to teach students to mastery, using proven programs and practices. Until that occurs, everything else is just an exercise in futility.

This particular distraction of lowering standards depending upon race, however, is actually harmful and nonsensical – not to mention racist and should be protested by citizens everywhere.


  1. Yak_Herder

    Carolyn and I have disagreed on a number of topics, but not this one. She is absolutely correct: lowering standards because of ethnicity is dead wrong.

  2. benjaminfox

    With actual proof Charter Schools are working, it amazes me that citizens and legislatures would limit their own kids school choice.

  3. ocdscoobs

    I’m all for creating standards that are realistic across the board, but please don’t politicize it. No Child Left Behind was a complete joke, which is why it wasn’t renewed.

    • Sandra Hunt

      That’s my point exactly. Why inject your personal politics into education?
      This is very disappointing for me since it was my idea to register my daughter at APA. I’m starting to feel guilty.
      Sandra Hunt

      • Mary McConnell

        Since education requires a vast outlay of taxpayer funds, it will always be – and should always be – a political issue. But I’m actually encouraged by growing signs of agreement between Democrats and Republicans in favor of education reforms, including charter schools. As I said in my earlier reply, I think that the Obama administration has generally embraced reform, although I find some of its actions heavy-handed and worry about making decisions via government fiat (waivers) rather than the democratic process (revising NCLB legislatively.)

        But I admit that I was disappointed in, and to some extent baffled by, the Obama administration’s willingness to set lower standards for minority kids. If that’s personal politics, well, I’m guilty as well.

  4. Bridgit Clark

    Carolyn has the experience to back up what she is saying. The SNA charter school has taken mainly minorities and refugees and has done amazing things. Rather than professional jealousy and nit picking by the establishment, shouldn’t we ask the schools to do what works and give these kids a chance?

  5. Joan Ottley-Zeeman

    If there were ever a time to come together, regardless of your position on charter schools and public schools, this is the time. This type of state action is creating justification for immoral behavior instead of creating solutions. It’s an outrage, not believable in this day and age, and must not be tolerated. Please bring this to the attention of everyone you know.

  6. Tiffany K

    This kind of racism is shocking, appalling and just plain wrong. Especially given the modern political climate and the alleged equality demanded by our current administration. Perhaps that only applies when it suits their immediate agenda? Otherwise, the rights for equality can be tossed out to cover shortcomings? Yet another hypocrisy and inconsistency that leaves me deeply saddened to see what our country has lowered itself to.

  7. Catherine

    Somehow it amazes me that as a country it is unlawful to discriminate when getting job, but not for educational purposes! This is ethically wrong. Charter schools do work. You don’t need an upper level teaching credential or even college education. You need people who are willing to use research based curriculum, such as Direct Instruction, and people who are passionate about teaching kids. Parent involvement helps schools function more smoothly and show their teachers they are appreciated, but the real value is knowing your curriculum works ands being willing to do it.

  8. A concerned parent of school-aged children

    I agree that all students (regardless of race) should be held to the same high educational standards. No child should be given a “you can’t achieve as much academically because of your race” card. A child is like a rubber playground ball–give them a little push and watch how high they can bounce. But if you let that child drop then they’ll just roll off to the side and never rise to a high level of expectaion.

  9. Lori Barton

    Why take a giant step backward when there are proven programs in place in some schools that will move all children, minority and otherwise, to mastery? Mrs. Sharette and her amazing charter schools and educators are doing just that. Children are children. Lowering expectations because of race or economics truly is “breathtakingly awful”. Do all children of this country a huge favor and listen to this smart lady.

  10. TamaraW

    I’m appalled that school districts are taking the approach of “sticking their heads in the sand,” and lowering mastery standards for minority students instead of intensely looking into what is working to close the achievement gap. Applying for waivers exempting schools from NCLB standards doesn’t change reality (ever widening failure gap for minorities), it keeps schools from facing reality.

  11. Debbie Korous

    Why should the children of different ethnicities learn what they need to know, if the standards are lowered? That doesn’t push them to try better, when children are very able to learn more than it is thought they can, if they are not challenged.

  12. Belinda Durling

    Thank you, Carolyn, for making us all aware of this issue. It is crazy that we would have different standards for different races!

  13. Debra Lovendahl Lloyd

    As the Research and Development Labs for our traditional schools, charter schools have not only the right but also the responsibility to be innovative in solving the problems of lack of academic achievement in students. Conversely, traditional schools have not only the right but also the responsibility to seek out and put into place formulas for success for student achievement being proven by the R&D labs (charter schools).

    Rather than students in a particular ethnic group being labeled as not being able to succeed as well as students in other ethnic groups, students of all ethnicities have the right to an equitable education.

    Kudos to the states whose legislators and school chiefs have resisted the temptation to dumb down the education being offered to students of any ethnicity.

  14. wendie Lowe

    I agree its wrong to lower expetations of children of different ethniticies. They learn to not try as hard as they are capable of. And that helps them feel less of themselves. Im glad there are charter schools out there to help them know that they can do anything they set their mind to. I believe the school my daughter goes to is one of them. Carolyn is the director of that school.

  15. Laura Hernandez

    Hispanic population is no longer a minority; please check your statistics on the last 10 year and you will verify how much the Hispanic community has been grown. Please, if you low the educational standards just for the ethnicity you will make the next generation of children incapable to provide adequate services and quality to the necessities from our community. Also I really believe that they will violate the constitutions because we will not be treating as equals. This is completely wrong.
    A directive that does not care for their children does not matter their ethnicity they will create the decadency of the community in the future. I mean we will not have a better future because we do not teach correctly our children.

  16. Craig Peterson

    I appreciate Carolyn’s insightful comments and I completely agree with her on all points. Though reaching 100% may never happen at least we can look at accurate data and examine schools that are performing well. It has always confused me when our top performing charter schools are criticized or condemned for being high performing schools based on national and state assessments when they should be studied and their programs/methodologies should be implemented. These state applications to adjust standards based on race or socioeconomic status is irrational and unethical. It is a huge step in the wrong direction. I work at a charter school in West Valley and wonder how my Hispanic and Black students would respond if we presented the new state standards to them. What we are telling them is “we know you cannot perform like your Caucasian peers, so here are some different expectations for you.” I do not know of a more damaging message to our youth, especially our minority youth who are full of remarkable potential. Please share this article with everyone and anyone so this can be remedied.

  17. Amanda

    You mentioned in your email to APA parents the following: “…For example, the District of Columbia’s proficiency goals for math include 71 percent for black students, 77 percent for Hispanic students, and 94 percent for white students. Utah Goals include: 76 percent proficiency in math in grades 3-8 for black students, 91 percent for white students, and 83 percent for low-income students.”

    Just wondering what the requirement for asians would be.

    • Mary McConnell

      I couldn’t find any specific standards for Asian students, though some immigrant Asian children presumably fall into the category of English language learners. For what it’s worth, a double standard for Asian students has been a big issue in California . . . where top state universities would be even more overwhelmingly populated by Asian students if admissions were truly race blind.

      My older daughter once told me that I was showing early signs of developing “Asian parent syndrome.” I think she meant that as a compliment. I certainly took it as one.

  18. Sandra Hunt

    To whom it may concern,
    I understand your concerns about the school goals with children that have a little more difficulty making the better grades. I’m sure President Obama is not aware of your concerns but we could change that and write to him.
    I believe these children have the same capacity as other children but might have a language barrier.
    This is my daughter’s first year at APA and she loves it and so do we. I was a little disappointed reading this letter because it has a bit of a political tone there.
    The letter refers to the president as “this president” and I find that a little offensive. President Obama, is pro-education and I’m sure most people know that. Also the state of Utah is more in charge of education as it is one of the states that does not want government intervention.
    I do respect your opinion and let’s try working out the problem without offending parents like us.
    I speak English and Spanish and I would love to volunteer helping children that might need help with translations, etc.
    Thank you very much,
    Sandra Hunt

    • Carolyn Sharette

      I appreciate your sincerity and understand that you believe President Obama is unaware of this terribly policy. It is President Obama’s friend from Chicago, Arne Duncan, who he picked to be the head of his education department, that approved states being allowed to implement these racist policies. I am nearly 100% certain that President Obama DOES know about this, and approves of it. After all, it is coming from his administration. If for some strange reason he doesn’t know what his people are doing, then he is incompetent.

      I believe President Obama has failed to do his duty with regard to education. He was responsible for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and for the past four years has failed to bring forward any type of education plan. His complete failure to fulfill this responsibility indicates to me that he is not “pro-education”. While anyone can “talk the talk” and say they are “pro-education”, the only thing that really matters to kids is when we “walk the walk”. President Obama has not done so.

      I wish it weren’t true that the Obama administration supports this terrible racist policy, but they do.

  19. Ginni Pereira

    According to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights the right to education includes the right to free, compulsory primary education for all[1], an obligation to develop secondary education accessible to all, in particular by the progressive introduction of free secondary education[2], as well as an obligation to develop equitable access to higher education. If the standards are lowered for minority kids then we can in no way meet the obligation to develop equitable access to higher education, as those children will not develop the skills required to be successful in attaining access to higher education. The Apollo 20 program in Houston is proving that districts with high drop-out rates can educate ALL children by the use of a radical technique–teaching! They are using data driven instruction, Intensive tutoring and creating a culture of high expectations and no excuses We need to look at successful schools no matter whether they are charter schools or public, and use what works. We should all be on the same page. Let’s educate our most precious commodity, our children–ALL OF THEM! !

  20. Grant Stoddard

    Kids of all races and ethnicities can achieve mastery. I see it happening all the time. It’s incredible what high expectations can do to a child’s academic performance. The answer is not to lower expectations based on race, but to push all of our kids to reach their potentials.

  21. Nancy Newman

    I am horrifyingly astonished that leaders in our country would allow this reintroduction of segregation in the United States of America. This is a completely racist policy that will immediately question the academic accomplishment of America’s minority population leaving them to believe the lie that they are being treated as equals. These children will not be able to pass college entrance exams with the same proficiency as their counterparts. Yet those entering colleges are set up to fail out and find themselves spiraling into college debt with no college degree. A disgusting lie for whose gain? Not the children, not anyone in the not so long run. We all suffer from the economic collapse. We do not need an academic collapse as well.

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