The Corner

Secretary Duncan Makes Ominous Noises

Ominousness exudes with regularity from the federal Department of Education.

The latest emission comes with Secretary Arne Duncan’s announcement this week that his department’s Office of Civil Rights will “reinvigorate civil rights enforcement” in the nation’s schools in an effort “to make Dr. King’s dream of a colorblind society a reality.” There is an obvious contradiction in trying to create a colorblind society through an inherently hyper-color-aware approach. And there’s a panoply of problems with a big, brash federal office opening “equity” investigations into the discipline decisions, course allotments, teacher assignments, etc. of individual schools. Here’s just one:  

Duncan said that the country must ensure “that low-income Latino and African American students” have the same access to AP (Advanced Placement) classes as do other students. This assumes that black and Latino pupils are mostly denied access to AP courses because of their ethnicities; the reality is that black and Latino high-school students are simply less likely than their white and Asian counterparts to have attained the requisite academic skills that would enable them to handle AP assignments. The solution is not to police the AP roll; the solution is to worry about the lousy elementary schools and middle schools where so many black and Latino kids are permitted to sit through years of classes while learning next to nothing in them.

Packing into AP courses students unprepared for AP coursework can have only deleterious results: Either an unprepared pupil will grow frustrated and fail, or his teacher will accommodate him by making the class easier. The first outcome is unfair to one group of students, the second outcome is unfair to another. This is not civil rights.

Liam Julian, a Hoover Institution fellow, is managing editor of Policy Review.

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