Plan to waive SAT tests part of a liberal scheme

June 18, 1999|By R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr.

WASHINGTON -- One of the great and anti-democratic goals of American liberalism is to make public matters so complicated that the public despairs and transfers the matter at hand over to the liberal bureaucrats. Another of the great and anti-democratic goals of American liberalism is to stand on both sides of every issue. Again, confusing the public is the liberal's desired end, all the better to control the public.

On the matter of improved education, the Clintonian liberal stands four square for educational standards. Yet when it comes to the standards maintained by SAT college-entrance examinations, the liberals are against those standards.

Assault on standards

The SAT standards have for decades proved to be accurate predictors of a potential college student's likelihood to earn a college degree. Now, however, according to the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights, when those standards have what the bureaucrats call "significant disparate impact" on members of a particular race, national origin or sex, they are to be waived. Ill-prepared students are to be accepted by colleges on some other basis. Thus the liberals are again on both sides of the issue: for standards but against them.

The consequence is that students who are not likely to graduate from college or to benefit from a college education are gently coerced to set aside years of their lives on college campuses that can do little for them. Another consequence is that students are to be chosen for college on the grounds of race, gender or national origin. That, of course, is precisely the opposite of the color-blind society that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for.

If the liberal bureaucrats at the Department of Education have their way, the scholastically unqualified student will waste years of his life. His family and the state will waste funds and resources. And no educational purpose is served. Colleges will be even more heavily burdened with unhappy students who do not belong there. Finally, high schools that have failed to prepare students for college will be allowed to continue to fail as educational institutions.

A bigot's view

Implicit in the Education Department's campaign against the SAT tests is bigotry, racial and otherwise. The notion held by the department is that women, blacks and certain groups from poor countries are incapable of doing well on SAT tests.

So the tests are to be eliminated. Others have a more optimistic view of these groups' possibilities. They believe in the essential equality of the races, sexes and ethnic groups. They blame the disparity in test scores on the deplorable condition of public schools in the inner cities. Would it not be better to improve the high schools than to further degrade the colleges?

The consequence of the Department of Education's attack on the SAT tests is that colleges will actually get worse. Colleges are supposed to be our most rigorous educational institutions.

One of the reasons that colleges are in the muddle they are in today is that 40 years ago college administrators, greedy for more government funding, insisted that a college-educated population would increase the wealth of the community. That is not always the case, and if colleges continue to decline to the condition of 1950's high schools, the value of a college degree will be even less.

Yet, as I say, the purpose of many liberals in debate is merely to confuse the public. The Department of Education comes up with this abstruse notion of "significant disparate impact." More lucid minds would look at the SAT test scores and see "disparate results." They would go right to the source, to wit, inferior high schools and do something about them. Improving the schools is too vast an undertaking for the bureaucrats. Hence they make an education issue into a civil rights issue. In the end, their effort to confuse the public has brought them to confusion -- not for the first time. The SAT tests should remain.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is editor in chief of the American Spectator.

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