A racial chasm

Last week, the Supreme Court decided that race can be considered in college admission decisions. Thus, affirmative action will remain a legal practice in the United States’ higher education system. Yet, the decision will not solve the education crisis facing black and Hispanic students in this country; affirmative action does not address the issues that have perpetuated and continue to perpetuate a racial chasm in education.

The U.S. educational racial divide’s genesis is in preschool and grade school. However, this divide is often not empirically exposed until high school and college. For instance, according to the Manhattan Institute, in 1998 black and Hispanic Minnesota high school seniors graduated from high school at half the rate of white Minnesota high school seniors. Disparate graduation rates like these are prevalent throughout the United States. Similar racial gaps are also found in national college graduation rates, high school and college dropout rates, and standardized test scores.

How can this racial gap in educational performance, especially at the K-12 level, be narrowed? Some are looking to educational reform. According to its supporters, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 will significantly close the minority achievement gap.

Whether this major reform in K-12 education will prove successful in closing the racial achievement gap is open to debate. What is more certain, however, is that black and Hispanic scholastic achievement will not vastly improve until certain social inequities that disproportionably affect these minority groups are ameliorated.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 23 percent of black Americans are at or below the federally determined poverty line. This rate is very similar in the Hispanic community. In comparison, 10 percent of whites live below the poverty line. Is it surprising that hungry children cannot match the performance of the well-fed?

Research also indicates strong parental involvement in a student’s life is vital to satisfactory educational performance. However, when 33 percent of young black men are involved in the criminal justice system and 16 percent of Hispanic men will be incarcerated within their lifetimes, strong parental involvement in many young black and Hispanic students’ lives proves impossible. The practice of locking up nonviolent offenders – many who are parents – for increasingly longer periods of time might render reforms to improve minority education performance impotent.

Certainly, scholastic achievement by minorities is challenged by other factors. Rapidly resegregating inner-city schools tend to receive less funding and have higher teacher turnover rates than their suburban counterparts. Yet, until better economic conditions and family stability becomes the norm for many black and Hispanic families, no amount of educational funding or reform will significantly close the large educational achievement gap.

Lost in the hubbub over the Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action is the fact that black and Hispanic academic achievement will continue to suffer despite educational reform. Retaining affirmative action in higher education admission processes does nothing to solve the persistent causes of the racial chasm in scholastic achievement.