U.S. Supreme Court case: Fisher v. University of Texas and race and class

16 Jun

Moi wrote about the intersection of race and class in education in Race, class, and education in America:

Many educators have long recognized that the impact of social class affects both education achievement and life chances after completion of education. There are two impacts from diversity, one is to broaden the life experience of the privileged and to raise the expectations of the disadvantaged. Social class matters in not only other societies, but this one as well.

A few years back, the New York Times did a series about social class in America. That series is still relevant. Janny Scott and David Leonhardt’s overview, Shadowy Lines That Still Divide describes the challenges faced by schools trying to overcome the disparity in education. The complete series can be found at Social Class                                   https://drwilda.com/2011/11/07/race-class-and-education-in-america/

Lindsey Layton has written the Washington Post article, Schools dilemma for gentrifiers: Keep their kids urban, or move to suburbia?

When his oldest son reached school age, Michael Petrilli faced a dilemma known to many middle-class parents living in cities they helped gentrify: Should the family flee to the homogenous suburbs for excellent schools or stay urban for diverse but often struggling schools?

Petrilli, who lived in Takoma Park with his wife and two sons, was torn, but he knew more than most people about the choice before him. Petrilli is an education expert, a former official in the Education Department under George W. Bush and executive vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-leaning education think tank.

He set out to learn as much as he could about the risks and benefits of socioeconomically diverse schools, where at least 20 percent of students are eligible for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program. And then he wrote about it.

The result is “The Diverse Schools Dilemma,” which is being published and released next month by the Fordham Institute.

Petrilli said he wanted his son to have friends from all backgrounds because he believes that cultural literacy will prepare him for success in a global society.

But he worried that his son might get lost in a classroom that has a high percentage of poor children, that teachers would be focused on the struggling children and have less time for their more privileged peers.

As Petrilli points out in the book, this dilemma doesn’t exist for most white, middle-class families. The vast majority — 87 percent — of white students attend majority white schools, Petrilli says, even though they make up just about 50 percent of the public school population.

And even in urban areas with significant African American and Latino populations, neighborhood schools still tend to be segregated by class, if not by race. In the Washington region, less than 3 percent of white public school students attend schools where poor children are the majority, according to Petrilli.

Gentrification poses new opportunities for policymakers to desegregate schools, Petrilli argues….

In the end, Petrilli moved from his Takoma Park neighborhood school — diverse Piney Branch Elementary, which is 33 percent low-income — to Wood Acres Elementary in Bethesda, where 1 percent of the children are low-income, 2 percent are black and 5 percent are Hispanic. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/schools-dilemma-for-urban-gentrifiers-keep-their-kids-urban-or-move-to-suburbia/2012/10/14/02083b6c-131b-11e2-a16b-2c110031514a_story.html

Often, schools are segregated by both race and class. Class identification is very important in education because of class and peer support for education achievement and the value placed on education by social class groups. Moi does not condemn Mr. Petrilli for doing what is best for his family because when the rubber meets the road that is what parents are supposed to do. His family’s situation is just an example of the intersection of race and class in education.

Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, looks at the issue of class-based affirmative action in higher education admissions in the Washington Post article, Race vs. class in college admissions: A false dichotomy or not?

Sherrilyn A. Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund Inc., just wrote a New York Times op-ed in defense of race-based affirmative action. The future direction of such policies is likely to be decided at some time in the next two weeks when the U.S. Supreme Court issues its ruling in a challenge to racial preferences in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas.

In particular, Ifill is concerned that “an alarming number of scholars, pundits and columnists—many of them liberal—have declared that economic class, not race, should be the appropriate focus of university affirmative-action efforts.” As a longtime proponent of class-based affirmative action (author of a 1996 book, “The Remedy: Class, Race and Affirmative Action,” coauthor a 2012 Century Foundation report, “A Better Affirmative Action: State Universities that Created Alternatives to Racial Preferences”) and a liberal, to boot, let me explain why I disagree with the four central arguments Ifill advances in favor of racial preference policies.

1. Race Still Matters, Therefore Racial Preferences Are Needed

Ifill argues that because racial discrimination continues to exist in American society—in the criminal justice system, housing, and employment—universities should be allowed to use racial preferences as a countermeasure.

Ifill is correct, of course, to suggest that discrimination continues to be a serious problem, which is why it would be crazy to repeal civil rights laws that are meant to address such discrimination. But the providing of racial preferences—the equivalent of a 310 point SAT boost in admissions to African Americans at selective private universities, according to Thomas Espenshade and Alexandra Radford—has never been held by the Supreme Court to be an appropriate remedy for ongoing societal discrimination. Instead, the argument that has prevailed is that racial preferences are necessary to promote the educational benefits of racial and ethnic diversity in the classroom.

The problem in applying the diversity argument, in turn, is that the University of Texas found a way to create higher levels of racial and ethnic diversity—by reducing reliance on test scores and giving a boost to economically disadvantaged students of all races—than they had using race. In 1996, when a lower court held Texas’s racial preference plan unconstitutional, the freshman class at U.T. Austin (using race in admissions) was 4.1 percent African American and 14.5 percent Hispanic. By 2004, race-neutral alternatives produced a class that was 4.5 percent African-American and 16.9 percent Hispanic. (Texas subsequently began using race again, which prompted the Fisher litigation.)

Moreover, class-based programs can be carefully defined in a way that captures the impact of racial discrimination—by considering, for example, whether a student lives in concentrated poverty, a reflection, in some measure, of racial housing discrimination.

2. Affirmative Action Has Majority Support

Ifill dismisses concerns that racial preferences are unpopular, suggesting that this is not the proper measure of such policies, and then goes on to suggest “a recent New York Times poll showed that most Americans support affirmative action.” The poll indeed found that, by 53 percent to 38 percent, Americans favor “affirmative action programs for minorities in hiring, promoting and college admissions.” But the issue at stake in Fisher is not the amorphous concept of affirmative steps—which can include encouraging minority students to apply—but whether race should count in who is admitted. On that question, a recent Washington Post poll found by 76 percent to 22 percent, Americans oppose “allowing universities to consider applicants’ race as a factor in deciding which students to admit.” And a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that even in using the vague affirmative action language, support was at an “historic low.”

3. Universities Need Wealthy Students of Color

Ifill also raises the concern that if universities shift the basis of affirmative action preferences from race to class, “We may simply reinforce stereotypes within the student body that will equate minority students with poverty.” This argument was also advanced by the University of Texas: that race-neutral plans produced too many low-income and working-class minority students and that Texas needed to provide a preference to wealthy minority students such as “the African American or Hispanic child of successful professionals in Dallas” who would defy stereotypes.

This line of argument highlights how far the case for race-based affirmative action has drifted from basic concepts of fairness….

4. Race vs. Class Is a False Dichotomy

Ifill’s final, and most theoretically plausible, argument is that pitting race and class poses a “false dichotomy” because universities can provide a leg up to students on both criteria. Indeed, universities purport to do just that, saying they consider both race and class in admissions.

But extensive research from Anthony Carnevale of Georgetown University and William Bowen, the former president of Princeton University, puts the lie to that claim. In fact, most selective universities provide very heavy preferences based on race, and virtually no consideration to economic disadvantage. From a self-interested perspective, that’s understandable. A lack of class diversity is easier to hide than a lack of racial diversity; and addressing socioeconomic diversity is more expensive because low-incomes students need greater financial aid and support on campus….

I have been hearing the argument, “let’s pursue race and class diversity together,” for more than two decades. But somehow, as long as universities can employ robust racial preferences, the vast majority never gets around to addressing class. As a result, a generation of talented low-income and working-class students have been virtually shut out of America’s competitive colleges and universities.http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/06/15/race-vs-class-in-college-admissions-a-false-dichotomy-or-not/

People tend to cluster in neighborhoods based upon class as much as race. Good teachers tend to gravitate toward neighborhoods where they are paid well and students come from families who mirror their personal backgrounds and values. Good teachers make a difference in a child’s life. One of the difficulties in busing to achieve equity in education is that neighborhoods tend to be segregated by class as well as race. People often make sacrifices to move into neighborhoods they perceive mirror their values. That is why there must be good schools in all segments of the country and there must be good schools in all parts of this society. A good education should not depend upon one’s class or status.

Related:

U.S. Supreme Court to decide the affirmative action case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (Case No. 11-345)                                                                                      https://drwilda.com/tag/fisher-v-university-of-texas-at-austin/

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