Black students need better schools, not lower standards

Low-income black students need quality schools, not white classmates, and the focus on racial balance at any cost will only ensure that another generation of black youth receives an inferior education. (Photo: AP)
Low-income black students need quality schools, not white classmates, and the focus on racial balance at any cost will only ensure that another generation of black youth receives an inferior education. (Photo: AP)

Summary

The fixation on racial parity at any cost will doom yet another generation to educational failure

The good news is that the College Board has revised the curriculum for its new Advanced Placement course in African-American studies. Topics such as “black queer studies" and “intersectionality and activism" have been downgraded or expunged. The bad news is that offering the course to begin with remains an exercise in racial pandering.

The College Board’s primary concern is that blacks are underrepresented among high-school students who receive college credit for AP courses. This achievement gap has drawn scrutiny from progressives who automatically attribute racial imbalances to racial discrimination. The College Board could address the problem by providing more tutoring services for students who are struggling. Instead, it has created a black-studies course that no one expects to match the academic rigor of other AP offerings.

Colleges and universities did something similar in the 1960s and ’70s after they began lowering admissions standards to achieve more racial balance on campuses. Once they lowered standards for admission, they had to lower the standards for grading and graduation as well. Hence, the creation of black-studies programs, which were born of political expediency and have long been known to put ideological indoctrination ahead of intellectual inquiry.

It’s been clear for decades that this obsession over a school’s racial mix is misplaced, yet it remains one of the political left’s favorite explanations for the achievement gap. After assessing the huge body of research on school integration dating back to the 1960s, social scientists David Armor and Christine Rossell concluded that “there is not a single example in the published literature of a comprehensive racial balance plan that has improved black achievement or that has reduced the black-white achievement gap significantly." Whether black students attended schools that were 10% black or 70% black, the racial achievement gap remained roughly the same.

“The racial composition of the school may matter, but the academic culture of the school matters more," Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom write in their 2003 book, “No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning." “Creating the right academic culture does not depend on the racial backgrounds of the students who attend it."

Some of the best public schools in the country are charter schools full of low-income black students who regularly outperform wealthier white peers on standardized tests. Yet these charter schools, which purposely locate in poor minority neighborhoods, have been criticized by civil-rights organizations for their racial imbalance. School choice has polled off the charts among black parents for decades, but opponents continue the fight to deny these families better education options.

Similarly, gifted and talented programs have come under attack for their elitism. There have been calls to eliminate them outright or at least broaden the definition of “gifted" to get a more desirable racial mix. Because the programs often enroll more whites and Asians than blacks and Hispanics, they’ve been accused of driving school segregation, but a new study published in Harvard’s Education Next magazine concludes that there is little merit to that claim.

“I find essentially no impact from gifted and talented programs on a Black or Hispanic student’s likelihood of having white or Asian students as classmates," writes Owen Thompson, a professor of economics at Williams College. Nor does starting or ending a gifted and talented program affect a school’s racial composition, as critics allege. “I do not find any consistent evidence that gifted and talented programs have a causal effect on schools’ race-specific enrollments." Nevertheless, efforts to oust or water down enrichment programs continue. Racial parity has been deemed more important than maintaining high standards.

You don’t help underperforming groups by pandering to them or by holding them to lower standards. And you don’t help black children by insisting that they must be seated next to white children in order to learn. It’s not only insulting and condescending but contradicted by decades of evidence. Low-income black students need quality schools, not white classmates, and the focus on racial balance at any cost will only ensure that another generation of black youth receives an inferior education.

This war on standards is part of a larger war on meritocracy, with economic and geopolitical consequences that should concern all of us, regardless of race. China and India are not eroding standards in the name of equity and social justice. They are not abandoning enrichment programs for their brightest students. They are selecting people based on talent and promoting them based on performance. What we’re doing to ourselves in moving away from merit-based systems will only make it more difficult for our children to compete with their children.

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