Two Headlines Tell a Troubling Story

March 08, 1994|By CARL T. ROWAN

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- If education is the key to a better life for America's minorities and poor, then a couple of recent headlines explain why those groups remain locked in second-class citizenship.

One said: ''Segregation in Nation's Schools Increases.''

The other read: ''Minority Scholarships Equal Just 4 Percent of Money.''

The first story reported a Harvard University study which found that a quarter-century of progress in school integration has been reversed in the last few years.

According to the study, 66 percent of black students (4.6 million) and 73 percent of Hispanics (3.7 million) attend schools with total or predominantly minority enrollment. The greatest segregation of both blacks and Hispanics was found in Northeastern states.

''The civil-rights impulse from the 1960s is dead in the water and the ship is floating backward toward the shoals of racial segregation,'' said Gary Orfield, director of the project. ''For the first time since the [Supreme Court's 1954] Brown vs. Board decision we are going backward.''

The study also found ''economic segregation'' in schools, with minority students from low-income families tending to be lumped together. And it found that clustering was highest in big cities, although two-thirds of Hispanics and three-fifths of blacks who live in suburbs also attended predominantly minority schools.

Several reasons were cited for the turnaround in school desegregation: higher birth rates among minority groups, immigration, poverty, school and housing segregation and the abandonment of mandatory school-desegregation orders in many districts. White flight to the suburbs was not found to be a major factor.

Some educators, while decrying the trend, contend that the most important issue in our schools is not racial mix, but quality of education. That sounds suspiciously like the discredited old ''separate but equal'' hogwash. Even if it were valid, the bottom line would be the same: Educational quality is not equal in inner-city schools with the highest concentration of minority students. They have less money to spend on each student than do the suburban schools.

For those blacks and Hispanics who manage to overcome the crippling effects of segregated classrooms, another obstacle blocks their path to college, as suggested by the second headline. A study by the Government Accounting Office found that although almost two-thirds of American colleges offer scholarships targeted to minorities, only about 4 percent of total scholarship money awarded by colleges goes to minorities.

This is a sorry legacy of the Reagan-Bush administrations, which tried in 1991 to rule that many minority scholarships were illegal because they discriminated on the basis of race. That policy has just been reversed by the Clinton administration, which wants to encourage colleges to use minority scholarships to promote diversity on campuses and reverse historical discrimination.

The new rules, however, are likely to face legal tests from opponents who argue that race-based scholarships unfairly discriminate against white students and thus violate the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

What the two headlines tell us about integration and scholarships is that some progress has been made in equalizing educational opportunities in America. But not much.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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