President George W. Bush coined that phrase in 2004, although others have probably used it at other times. He, of course, was roundly criticized for another dumb statement. Typical dumb Shrub comment. Only it turns out, it’s true.
A major study, led by Rutgers-Newark psychology professor Kent D. Harber, indicates that public school teachers under-challenge minority students by providing them more positive feedback than they give to white students, for work of equal merit. The study, which is currently available online in the Journal of Educational Psychology (JEP), involved 113 white middle school and high school teachers in two public school districts located in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut tri-state area, one middle class and white, and the other more working class and racially mixed.
Teachers read and commented on a poorly written essay which they believed was composed by a student in a writing class. Some teachers thought the student was black, some thought the student was Latino, and some thought that the student was white. Teachers believed that their feedback would be sent directly to the student, in order to see how the student would benefit from their comments and advice.
In fact, there was no actual student, and the poorly written essay was developed by Harber and his team. The real purpose was to see how teachers would respond to subpar work due to the race of the student who composed it. As Harber and his team predicted, the teachers displayed a “positive feedback bias,” providing more praise and less criticism if they thought the essay was written by a minority student than by a white student.
The article is longer than this, and of course the study is even more detailed.
Teachers were less critical when they believed that the poorly written paper was produced by a Black or Latino student. There can be many reasons for this, none of them speak well of modern education. Or liberalism for that matter.
One reason can be that teachers are afraid that giving a minority student a poor grade might result in a charge or racism. Another is that maybe the minority students were poorly taught in the past. Another, one which should disturb us all, is that minority students just can’t achieve and so need to have their grades inflated to make up for past bias.
I’d like to think that this would start an earnest discussion among academics about how to address this problem and how to develop ways to help minority students do better in school. I don’t think grade inflation is the way to do that if there is a widespread achievement gap among the races. Sadly, I think that the only discussion will be how to get more federal money into the public schools to fix this problem.