Peter Schrag

Peter Schrag, a longtime education writer and editor, is the author of Paradise Lost: California's Experience, America's Future and most recently, California: America's High-Stakes Experiment. He is a former editorial page editor of the Sacramento Bee.

Recent Articles

Regressive Recovery

If California's present is the nation's future, then the Golden State's split-level prosperity is an ominous social indicator.

B y now it has become a truism that the California economy, which fell further than the rest of the nation in the recession of the early 1990s, and took longer to recover, has come back vigorously and is now outpacing the national economy. That's true whether one measures the rise in jobs, personal income, or the state's overall output in goods and services. California's unemployment rate is still a full point higher than the national rate, but as the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy (CCSCE) summarized early in 1997, "the state has regained all the jobs lost between 1990 and 1994 [and] most economists expect that the California economy will grow in 1997 and 1998—outpacing the nation each year." More impressively, the recovery was led by what CCSCE calls "future high growth sectors": high technology; foreign trade, particularly with Latin America and the nations of the Pacific Rim; tourism and entertainment; and professional services—all sectors regarded as...

The Diversity Defense

A pluralist, diverse society doesn’t depend on racial quotas at elite institutions. To pretend otherwise abuses the idea of merit and relies on tortured social science.

If patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, is social science the last resort of a losing cause? We may not know the answer for some time, but there's no question that some of the heaviest hitters in the fight to preserve race preferences in college admissions are now desperately trying to convert the findings of social research into an argument for what lawyers for the University of Michigan call "the compelling need for diversity in higher education." With the strong backing of the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education, they are also trying to prove that some of the traditional measures colleges use in admission—test scores in particular—are biased and unrelated to college success. The attempt is understandable, but it's likely to be an uphill fight, and not a pretty one. In the past half a dozen years or so, the news for the defenders of race preferences in such things as public contracting and university admissions has been almost invariably bad, both in...

Muddy Waters

New data show just how successful affirmative action programs have been at elite colleges and universities. Too bad those data might not have much relevance for the current debate over preferences in higher education. 

I f anything is certain about The Shape of the River —William G. Bowen's and Derek Bok's massive defense of race preferences in university admissions—it is this: the book will become a primary source in every debate and lawsuit involving affirmative action for the next decade, and maybe longer. It's a book that will launch a thousand footnotes. And that was clearly part of the authors' intention. They remind us that in 1978, when Justice Lewis Powell wrote the Supreme Court's opinion in the seminal Bakke v. Regents of the University of California case, he was willing to take on faith the word of university officials that diversity, including ethnic diversity, was an important asset in the education of university students. But this is a different age, with a different Court. Race preferences have already been prohibited in three parts of the country: by nearly identical voter initiatives in California and Washington State, and by a federal appellate court in Texas, Lou isiana, and Ark...

When Preferences Disappear

Proposition 209 signals the end of gender and racial favoritism in California, but it may also be the beginning of affirmative action by other means.

B y now, there can no longer be much doubt that the days of formal race preference programs, at least in the public sector, are numbered. On November 5, California voters did what everyone had long expected, approving Proposition 209, the California Civil Rights Initiative, which prohibits any consideration of race or gender in California public education, employment, and contracting. The vote was narrower than had once been expected (and might have been narrower still had CCRI opponents not used an inflammatory and offensive television commercial, complete with a burning KKK cross, in the last weeks of the campaign). But, with a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent, it was decisive enough. CCRI is only the most recent assault on affirmative action measures. And while Proposition 209 still faces legal challenges in federal court that may take years to resolve fully, the drift is clear. In the summer of 1995, the regents of the University of California, under heavy pressure from a...