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Jewish World Review Feb. 5, 2003 / 3 Adar I, 5763

Walter Williams

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Consumer Reports

Affirmative action or racism II | Last week's column discussed some of the controversy surrounding the University of Michigan's admissions practices, where blacks and Hispanics are given points based solely on race, and where whites are turned away to admit blacks and Hispanics with much lower academic qualifications.

A few weeks before that, my column discussed the deplorable conditions in Washington, D.C.'s high schools. At 12 of its 19 high schools, more than 50 percent of the students test below basic in reading, and at some of those schools the percentages approached 80 percent. At 15 of these schools, over 50 percent tests below basic in math. And in 12 of them, 70 percent to 99 percent do so. Each year, more than 80 percent -- and up to 96 percent -- of high school students are fraudulently promoted to the next grade.

Washington's predominantly black high schools are not alone in delivering fraudulent education. In Philadelphia's predominantly black high schools, combined SAT scores of its seniors average between 590 to 800 out of a possible 1600. I suspect that there's little difference between these education outcomes and those in other predominantly black school districts. Indeed, nationally there's over a 200 SAT score gap between blacks and Hispanics on the one hand, and whites and Asians on the other.

For the life of me, setting vested interests aside, I cannot fathom the current outrage among many in the black community over the University of Michigan affirmative action case and the deafening silence about the day-to-day sabotage of black academic excellence by the public schools that most black students attend. With the deplorable academic outcomes at the high school level, how can anybody reasonably expect for black students to ever be admitted to college on academic merit? The problem is seen in even starker relief looking at what happens when blacks are admitted to college. Only 20 percent complete college in four years, compared to 40 percent for whites and 50 percent for Asians (which is nothing to write home about).

Calls for racial preferences in law schools, medical schools and graduate education in general highlight something else: namely, that the effects of 12 years of fraudulent education cannot be wiped away by four years or so of college. According to a report by Abigail Thernstrom, "The Racial Gap in Academic Achievement," black students in 12th grade dealt with scientific problems at the level of whites in the sixth grade; they wrote about as well as whites in the eighth grade. The average black high school senior had math skills on a par with a typical white student in the middle of ninth grade. The average 17-year-old black student could only read as well as the typical white child who had not yet reached age 13.

Is inferior black education preordained? Check out Frederick Douglass Academy, a predominately black school, in Harlem, N.Y. It dispels a couple of myths about public schools: the "not enough money" and the "black kids can't compete" myth.

Ninety-eight percent of Frederick Douglass students graduate with a Regent's diploma, and 95 percent go on to college. Newsweek's magazine survey listed Frederick Douglass Academy as one of the top public schools in the country, based on the number of advanced placement courses it offers and the students' grades on the AP tests.

What's the philosophy that gets that job done? School principal Gregory Hodge says: "You have to demand more of your students, while providing them with the structure to meet those demands. The more difficult the curriculum, the greater the likelihood your students will be successful." So what else is new? Blacks have a long record of excellence precisely in those areas where the competition is the most ruthless and unforgiving: sports and entertainment.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate