Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Lowering the Bar Again...
In order to increase the diversity of its student body, the California University system have lowered objective academic standards and shifted its focus to subjective factors. While I too am troubled by the large academic gap between African-Americans and Latino students and their white and Asian counterparts, I am deeply troubled by the means in which progressives seek to address this social ill. Rather than seek to raise the human capital by improving the lackluster schools that many African-Americans and Latinos languish in their first impulse is to lower standards. The end result of this approach is a lower level of human capital, which inevitably erodes the economic and social health of a society.
Defining Diversity Down
January 9, 2008
The world gets more competitive every day, so why would California's education elites want to dumb down their public university admissions standards? The answer is to serve the modern liberal piety known as "diversity" while potentially thwarting the will of the voters.
The University of California Board of Admissions is proposing to lower to 2.8 from 3.0 the minimum grade point average for admission to a UC school. That 3.0 GPA standard has been in place for 40 years. Students would also no longer be required to take the SAT exams that test for knowledge of specific subjects, such as history and science.
UC Board of Admissions Chairman Mark Rashid says that, under this new system of "comprehensive review," the schools "can make a better and more fair determination of academic merit by looking at all the students' achievements." And it is true that test scores and grades do not take full account of the special talents of certain students. But the current system already leaves slots for students with specific skills, so if you think this change is about admitting more linebackers or piccolo players, you don't understand modern academic politics.
The plan would grant admissions officers more discretion to evade the ban on race and gender preferences imposed by California voters. Those limits became law when voters approved Proposition 209 in 1996, and state officials have been looking for ways around them ever since. "This appears to be a blatant attempt to subvert the law," says Ward Connerly, a former member of the University of California Board of Regents, who led the drive for 209. "Subjective admissions standards allow schools to substitute race and diversity for academic achievement."
One loser here would be the principle of merit-based college admissions. That principle has served the state well over the decades, helping to make some of its universities among the world's finest. Since 209, Asian-American students have done especially well, with students of Asian ethnicity at UCLA nearly doubling to 42% from 22%. Immigrants and the children of immigrants now outnumber native-born whites in most UC schools, so being a member of an ethnic minority is clearly not an inherent admissions handicap. Ironically, objective testing criteria were first introduced in many university systems, including California's, precisely to weed out discrimination favoring children of affluent alumni ahead of higher performing students.
The other big losers would be the overall level of achievement demanded in California public elementary and high schools. A recent study by the left-leaning Institute for Democracy, Education and Access at UCLA, the "California Educational Opportunity Report 2007," finds that "California lags behind most other states in providing fundamental learning conditions as well as in student outcomes." In 2005 California ranked 48th among states in the percentage of high-school kids who attend college. Only Mississippi and Arizona rated worse.
The UCLA study documents that the educational achievement gap between black and Latino children and whites and Asians is increasing in California at a troubling pace. Graduation rates are falling fastest for blacks and Latinos, as many of them are stuck in the state's worst public schools. The way to close that gap is by introducing more accountability and choice to raise achievement standards -- admittedly hard work, especially because it means taking on the teachers unions.
Instead, the UC Board of Admissions proposal sounds like a declaration of academic surrender. It's one more depressing signal that liberal elites have all but given up on poor black and Hispanic kids. Because they don't think closing the achievement gap is possible, their alternative is to reduce standards for everyone. Diversity so trumps merit in the hierarchy of modern liberal values that they're willing to dumb down the entire university system to guarantee what they consider a proper mix of skin tones on campus.
A decade ago, California voters spoke clearly that they prefer admissions standards rooted in the American tradition of achievement. In the months ahead, the UC Board of Regents will have to decide which principle to endorse, and their choice will tell us a great deal about the future path of American society.
URL for this article:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119984049867076451.html