Charter schools, it has been said, are the best anti-poverty program.

The KIPP public charter school network, which educates around 100,000 students, K-12, is has long been one of the most respected. Its students are 95 percent black and Latino.

The KIPP network schools have always had high standards built on high expectations for their students. The school slogan was, “Work Hard. Be Nice.” It was a formula for success.

But the uplifting slogan has been dropped. AEI’s education expert Frederick M. Hess reported on this decision in Forbes magazine:

Last week, just before the Fourth of July, the influential KIPP charter school network announced it had decided to abandon its longtime mantra “Work Hard. Be Nice.” KIPP’s leaders explained that the affable slogan had to go because it hinders efforts to “dismantle systemic racism,” “places value on being compliant and submissive,” “supports the illusion of meritocracy,” and doesn’t “align” with KIPP’s “vision of students being free to create the future they want.”

What to make of all this?

Well, KIPP has pledged its 240-odd schools to the cause of anti-racism. Generally speaking, that’s certainly admirable. But anti-racist education today can mean many things. What KIPP has embraced is a fairly radical vision that retreats from defending even time-tested, broadly supported, foundational virtues if someone hints that they’re freighted with wrongthink.

KIPP Schools have always fought racism. They did this by preparing minority kids to succeed. But, apparently, as Hess points out, KIPP didn’t have the confidence to stick with what was working.

Hess observes:

It’s disheartening. Of all the virtues, hard work and kindness have got to be among the most appealing and universal. The fact that KIPP’s leaders won’t stand by these shows a stunning lack of civilizational confidence.

. . . .

Even if one accepts the dubious notion that “Work Hard. Be Nice.” has somehow been tainted by systemic racism, educators with any confidence in their cause should relish the opportunity to remove that taint from a relatively baby-faced slogan.

Now, perhaps “nice” is too mild for our superheated times. Okay. Perhaps KIPP needed a more ambitious-sounding mission. Fair enough. With confidence, its leadership might have built on what they had. They could’ve gone with “Work Hard. Be Kind. Change the World.” Or “Work Hard. Be Good. Show Courage. Fight Oppression.” Instead, they retreated.

It’s short-sighted. Universal, aspirational values offer a moral language for rallying support. In retreating from these, one is left without a way to win new allies and bring them along. Indeed, when you declare that those who value hard work or kindness are part of the problem, you’ve kind of painted yourself into the corner. And, for what? I’ve known a number of KIPP leaders over many years, and I find it hard to believe that they don’t want their kids to live in a world that values kindness and hard work.

In an editorial headlined “KIPP Wokes Up,” the editors of the Wall Street Journal hope that the abandonment of the slogan doesn’t also mean lowering of standards. The editors are not optimistic on this score.

Let’s hope this is just a cosmetic retreat for KIPP, though even that shows the power of leftist virtue signaling over solid achievement.