Education policy

Affirmative Action, Race or Class: An Exchange

Should universities shift their recruitment focus away from race and onto poor neighborhoods?

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
T o the Editor: I wish to respond to Richard Rothstein’s critical review of my book, Place, Not Race , in your magazine. While I appreciate that he concludes that the book is “worth reading” and that my proposals are possibly even a “wise” response to the political and legal assault on affirmative action, I believe he mischaracterizes my argument in ways that would be misleading to anyone who doesn’t bother to read the book. Rothstein insists throughout the review that I focus exclusively on low-income African-Americans while ignoring middle class ones. That is not true. As I argue in the book, only about 30 percent of black children live in middle class neighborhoods and not all of these children are poor. As Rothstein himself points out, proximity to poverty is a common, lived experience for African American families of varying incomes. If universities were to follow my proposal of giving special consideration to any high achiever that lives in a neighborhood or goes to a school...

Race-Blind Admissions Are Affirmative Action for Whites

L-R: Brooke Kimbrough, Coach Sharon Hopkins and Rayvon Dean of the University Prep Debate team.
B rooke Kimbrough always dreamed of becoming a University of Michigan Wolverine. Her score on the ACT—a college-readiness test—dwarfs the scores of most of her classmates. Earlier this month, she was part of a winning team at the National Urban League Debate Championship in Washington, D.C. Last week, she became a powerful symbol for exactly how Michigan's race-blind college admissions policies have failed. In December, the University of Michigan informed Kimbrough that her application for admission had been wait-listed. Two months later, she received the letter that she had not been accepted. But instead of conceding defeat, Kimbrough decided to fight. Today she hopes that her story will highlight how Michigan's current approach to race in admissions fails exceptional students of color. Black students comprise just 4.6 percent of the 2012 freshman class; in 2008, the number was 6.8 percent. Over the course of this year, I had the honor of working with University Preparatory Academy...

The Class-Based Future of Affirmative Action

Progressives must move on from the idea of race-based admissions policies. 

AP Images/Paul Sakuma
Although many liberals have expressed initial relief that the Supreme Court decision in Fisher v. University of Texas did not kill affirmative action outright, when the dust settles it will become clear that the ruling made it substantially harder to justify race-based affirmative-action programs. The Court adopted a new, higher standard, requiring that judges "must ultimately be satisfied that no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity." Unlike the earlier ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger , the Court won't simply take the word of universities that race is a necessary consideration; universities will receive "no deference" on that issue, the Fisher Court ruled. Procedurally, the Justices simply sent the case back to the lower court, but make no mistake: The ability to use race as a qualification for admission has been scaled back by this decision. Counterintuitive as it may seem, this step back represents a unique opportunity for...

Is Racism Over? The Supreme Court says, "Who knows?"

AP Images/Susan Walsh
For the Supreme Court, the key question in Fisher v. University of Texas was this: “Is diversity in college admissions a compelling interest for the government, and are race-conscious policies a legitimate way of pursuing that interest?” Put another way, is racism over and do we still have to deal with it? To my—and many other’s—surprise, the Court decided to sidestep this question. Rather than support UT’s claim that its race-conscious policies fall within the Court’s standards for affirmative action, or Fisher’s claim that race-consciousness has no place in the business of college admissions, the Supreme Court—in a 7–1 decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy—sent the case back to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on a technicality. Writing for the majority , Kennedy notes that the University of Texas’ affirmative action plan could only withstand constitutional scrutiny if “no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity.” The problem...

Where Do Americans Stand on Affirmative Action?

Eddie~S/Flickr
Eddie~S/Flickr The last week or so has seen several polls on the popularity of affirmative action, as a preface (of sorts) to the Supreme Court’s anticipated ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas. But major differences between the polls make it difficult to judge where Americans stand on racial preferences One survey from The Washington Post and ABC News, for example, found a huge, diverse majority against “allowing universities to consider applicants race as a factor in deciding which students to admit.” Overall, 76 percent of Americans opposed race conscious admissions, while only 22 percent gave their support. This was consistent among all racial groups: 79 percent of whites opposed using race as a factor, along with 68 percent of Hispanics and 78 percent of blacks. For opponents of affirmative action, this seems to be a welcome sign that the whole of American society has turned against race-based efforts to increase diversity in higher education. But that’s only one poll...

Are Vouchers Dead?

AP Images/Ben Margot
When news broke Tuesday that the Louisiana Supreme Court struck down Louisiana’s voucher system, which uses public dollars to pay for low-income students to go to private schools, the fight over vouchers made its way back into the headlines. The Louisiana program, pushed hard and publicly by Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, offers any low-income child in the state, regardless of what public school they would attend, tuition assistance at private schools. It’s something liberals fear will become commonplace in other states in the future if conservative lawmakers get their way on education policy. Yet conservatives have been dominating legislatures since 2010 and there has been little success in creating voucher programs. Louisiana is one of only two states with such a broad program in place. After the 2010 Tea Party wave there was “a big spike in the number of states considering voucher legislation,” says Josh Cunningham, a policy specialist at the National Conference of State...

The STEM-Shortage Myth

Flickr/jasonandrebecca09
Flickr/jasonandrebecca09 The Economic Policy Institute published a report yesterday on the supposed shortage of professionals in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). You've probably heard of the crisis by now. America is not producing enough STEM degrees. This will be the death of innovation and global competitiveness. We must reorient higher education to convert more liberal arts students into STEM students. And so on. The problem with this alleged crisis is that it is not real. As the EPI report lays bare, the common wisdom about our STEM problem is mistaken: We are not facing a shortage of STEM-qualified workers. In fact, we appear to have a considerable STEM surplus. Only half of students graduating with a STEM degree are able to find STEM jobs. Beyond that, if there was an actual shortage of STEM workers, basic supply and demand would predict that the wages of STEM workers would be on the rise. Instead, wages in STEM fields have not budged in over a decade. Stagnant...

Why Affirmative Action Still Matters

This fall, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Fisher v. UT Austin , a case that will determine the future of affirmative action in the United States. As the Obama administration was preparing to issue its position in the case, Richard Kahlenberg wrote a provocative piece for The New Republic arguing that Obama should take this opportunity to "move the Democratic Party beyond the political morass of racial preferences" and to support "class-based, rather than race-based, affirmative action." The brief the administration submitted last week, however, did not follow Kahlenberg's advice. And this, I believe, a good thing. UT Austin's affirmative action is reasonable public policy that is perfectly consistent with the Constitution. Kahlenberg is certainly correct that economic disadvantage should be an important consideration considering a university applicant's credentials. But it is important to note, as the Obama administration's brief emphasizes) that UT Austin's admissions...

Willful Ignorance

(Wikipedia)
This, from YouGov, tells you everything you need to know about contemporary race relations in a single, compact chart: For 66 percent of white Americans to agree with this statement—“Irish, Italian, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors”—there needs to be either large scale amnesia or willful ignorance about what happened in the previous 150 years of this country’s history. In case you don’t know, it’s straightforward. After the Civil War, when African Americans were freed after more than two hundred years of bondage and chattel slavery, whites in the South—with, eventually, the complicitcy of whites nationwide—engaged in a brutal campaign of violence and economic deprivation against the descendants of said slaves, the result of which was to keep most blacks in a state of near-peonage, where their opportunities for social and economic advancement were extremely limited. Not to discount the...

Rejected From School and Blaming Minorities

(“It’s His Fault,” political cartoon, 2003, from Washington Post Writers Group.)
In almost every argument I’ve had about affirmative action in college admissions, someone eventually trots out the idea that the beneficaries of affirmative action are somehow “stealing” spots that rightfully belong to more “deserving” students. Ignoring, for a moment, the implicit assumption—that minority students are somehow less deserving—it’s simply a fact that college admissions don’t work that way. In open-admission pools where no one has a guaranteed spot, universites use a large number of factors to determine whom they accept and whom they deny. Sometimes, it turns on race and ethnicity, and sometimes it doesn’t. Which is why I was a little amused when reading that the Supreme Court will hear a case on affirmative action, the first time since 2003. Abigal Fisher, a white student, says she was denied admission to the University of Texas because of her race. Texas, like several other states, grants automatic admission to its public universities for students who place in the top...

Unqualified?

Reading Kevin Drum 's post on class-based affirmative action, this bit popped out at me: Beyond that, there's another benefit: for all the good it does, there's no question that race-based affirmative action has drawbacks as well. It makes employers suspicious of minority graduates, wondering if their degrees were really fairly earned. It provokes a backlash among working class whites. And it's open to abuse on a number of fronts. Class-based programs don't solve all these problems at a stroke, but they go a long way toward addressing them. [Emphasis mine] I have no doubt that this is true, but I've always found it a little odd. Even if affirmative action were little more than a glorified quota program -- which, it should be said, it isn't -- it's still the case that it only applies at the point of admission. Once in school, affirmative action doesn't give you a better class schedule, provide a more lenient curve or improve your grades; put another way, there are affirmative action...

Tuesday Twitter Talk: Affirmative Action.

*/ @DanFosterNRO On poor white Christians, contra @AdamSerwer and @TimFernholz: http://bit.ly/bfj5vN @TimFernholz Wow, that's really...um...not responding to any of our arguments with Douthat. @TimFernholz Adam specifically said, btb, and I concur, that increasing socioeconomic diversity from all racial backgrounds is critical. @TimFernholz And, incidentally, is your post an affirmation that diversity should be a factor in college admissions? @TimFernholz Also super-curious if feeling discriminated = actual discrimination only applies to white folks, or all groups? @DanFosterNRO feeling discriminated against becomes important when it warps our political discourse, black/white whatever. @DanFosterNRO idea is that it's something to be addressed, not that feelings alone can/should form basis of claims for political restitution @DanFosterNRO Not sure where you saw support for diversity agenda in my post. One can say AA fails on its own terms w/o supporting said terms. Follow the rest of...

More on "Acting White."

In a recent Bloggingheads episode , John McWhorter and Richard Thompson Ford spend a few minutes discussing the "acting white" charge as described in Stuart Buck 's book and their respective reviews: I've written on the "acting white" phenomenon before , but it's worth commenting on this exchange, since it sums up my main problem with the discussion about the phenomenon. By and large, this exchange is almost entirely anecdotal; if you set aside personal childhood memories, there simply isn't much broad empirical evidence for the claim that black students in integrated settings have a racialized antipathy toward educational achievement. Even Buck, whose book is the focus of the discussion, leaves room for alternative explanations. From the beginning, he concedes that the evidence for his claim isn't conclusive and that to some degree, he is relying on the "absence of evidence" against it. It's frustrating too that proponents of the "acting white" thesis use anecdotes to assert that the...

"Acting White" Just Standard Bullying, Racialized.

With the release of Stuart Buck 's book Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation , there's been some interesting discussion over whether there is actually racialized antipathy toward educational achievement among young African Americans -- the basic premise of Buck's book. At The New Republic , John McWhorter agrees , and at Slate , Richard Thompson Ford seems to agree , too. Here at TAPPED, guest blogger Gene Denby disagreed , arguing that accusing high-achieving black kids of "acting white" has more to do with social markers than academic achievement. I'm with Gene; as a nerdy black kid who was accused of "acting white" on a fairly regular basis, I feel confident saying that the charge had everything to do with cultural capital, and little to do with academics. If you dressed like other black kids, had the same interests as other black kids, and lived in the same neighborhoods as the other black kids, then you were accepted into the tribe. If you didn't, you weren't. In my...

"Acting White."

Over at The New Republic , John McWhorter lavishes praise on Stuart Buck 's book, Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation , which probably isn't terribly surprising. The thrust of Buck's book -- that blacks lag in educational outcomes because of a dysfunctional pathology that demonizes academic excellence -- has been McWhorter's pet cause for years. The idea that black kids who get good grades are accused of "acting white" gets so much play that it's taken as a given -- Barack Obama even went to that well at a campaign stop at a black church that was seen as dog-whistling to conservatives -- and McWhorter spends much of his review bristling at the idea that this alleged phenomenon is overstated, or even completely made up. Despite McWhorter's protestations, though, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of this meme, and Buck's reading of it in particular. Buck has said that he learned of this phenomenon after he and his wife adopted black children, and other white...

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