Bush diversity plan seeks good with negatives

EDUCATION BEAT

Proposal: The president's effort to make college admissions `race-neutral' is tied to racial segregation.

March 26, 2003|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

WHAT DOES Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s plan to install slot machines at Maryland racetracks have in common with President Bush's plan to achieve racial diversity in college admissions?

Each is a pact with the devil, employing a social negative to foster social good.

Ehrlich would put more than 40 percent of the profits from slots gambling into Maryland public schools. Bush wants to make college admissions "race-neutral" by guaranteeing public university access to students who graduate in the top 5 percent or 10 percent of their high school classes. Such "percent plans," now in effect in California, Florida and Texas, rely on the fact that many American high schools are racially segregated.

It's not that anyone is thinking of race, you understand. It's just a coincidence that the top students in a segregated black school are African-American.

Next week, the Supreme Court will take up the affirmative action plan at the University of Michigan, which considers an applicant's race as one factor in the admissions decision. If Michigan loses, many experts expect percent plans will become national policy, perhaps blessed by the high court.

But recent studies in the three states with percent plans show that they haven't achieved higher levels of campus diversity. And with public universities becoming ever more selective in admissions, class-rank plans will succeed only in sending poorly prepared graduates of urban high schools into academic environments they have no hope of surviving.

It's hard to say how a percent plan would work in Maryland, partly because no one keeps track of high school grades. But we do have SAT scores, and William E. Kirwan, University System of Maryland chancellor, set out recently to determine how graduates of Prince George's County public high schools would stack up against the freshman class at the University of Maryland, College Park (which is in Prince George's).

Kirwan looked at the 10 highest-scoring schools. Their average SAT score last year was 1,050, while UM's entering class scored 1,300. "That's a difference of 250 points," he said, "and remember that these are the 10 best schools. Percent plans are fundamentally flawed. They're hypocritical, too. They're said to be race-neutral, but they depend on racial segregation. At least affirmative action faces the issue straight on. Race still matters. Anyone who thinks it doesn't should look at their neighbors when they drive home."

Kirwan, who increased black enrollment significantly at College Park during his tenure as president in the 1990s, said there's no substitute for elbow grease. "Aggressive recruitment of minorities was still legal last time I looked," he said. So, he might have added, is strategic use of financial aid. So is improving the campus atmosphere so that minorities stay in college once admitted.

Just as city schools show gains, tests seem a footnote

Even when Baltimore City schools win, they appear to lose.

Case in point: In the last three years of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, city kids made significant progress. But when it came time to crow, suburban interests and the new No Child Left Behind Act combined to jettison MSPAP and go back to square one in the game of state testing.

Proof of the city's progress is contained in a report issued Monday by the Council of the Great City Schools. In MSPAP's last year, 2002, Baltimore still had the lowest scores in the state, but city pupils were gaining ground faster than their peers across the state in both reading and mathematics.

Baltimore did a better job than the state as a whole of narrowing the racial achievement gap in all but one of the nine MSPAP reading and math tests. It was a considerable accomplishment, the result of hard work, uniform citywide curriculum and new reading textbooks. But with the demise of MSPAP, it came almost as a footnote.

The report, "Beating the Odds III," is the third look at how well the schools in 59 large districts meet the academic goals set by their states.

Hopkins is the big player as a Maryland employer

Someone in your family or someone you know works for Johns Hopkins, long the state's largest employer.

A new report says that Hopkins employed 41,000 people last year in teaching, research, patient care and support jobs. That was an increase of 3,000 jobs, or 8 percent, over 1999, and Hopkins expects to grow by another 11 percent by 2007.

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