The Problem in the Pipeline

Inside Higher Ed has an interesting article today about a paper delivered yesterday at the American Sociological Association. The paper concluded that “when academic background is controlled for . . . while Asians are more likely to apply to and enroll at selective colleges than are all other groups, black and Latino applicants are slightly more likely to apply to and enroll in selective colleges than are white students.” Accordingly, the authors conclude that the way to increase the number of black and Latino students at selective schools is not through college admission policies — the obvious one that comes to mind, of course, is racial preferences – but by improving those students’ K–12 education. 

I agree with the paper’s authors that the problem is with the pipeline — that a disproportionate number of black and Latino students are not academically competitive — and kudos to the authors for their willingness to say so. (You can see that they are nervous about doing so by reading their rather defensive quotes.) And the authors are also correct that some of that problem is because of the K–12 system — and the solution to that (the authors don’t say this, but conservatives do) is not more spending or more diversity but more choice for parents in where to send their children — but let’s not kid ourselves: That’s not the biggest problem.

The big hole in the pipeline is this: More than seven out of 10 black Americans, more than six out of 10 American Indians, and more than five out of 10 Latinos are born out of wedlock — versus fewer than three out of 10 whites and fewer than two out of 10 Asians. See any connection between those figures and how well the different groups are doing socioeconomically and educationally? As any parent — Tiger Mom or not – can tell you, raising a child is extremely labor intensive and important. It takes two parents, especially for boys. And growing up in a home without a father correlates with – and, common sense suggests, causes – all kinds of social problems, including but not limited to bad educational outcomes. There are other cultural problems too, such as the idiotic belief that studying hard is “acting white,” but this is the biggest.

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