Phi Beta Cons

‘A New Manhattan Project’

That’s what Thomas J. Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford propose in Insider Higher Ed today, in order “(1) to identify the causes and cumulative consequences of racial gaps in academic achievement and (2) to develop concrete steps that can be taken by parents, schools, neighborhoods, and the public sector all working together to close these gaps on a nationwide scale.” Being a public-spirited fellow and always eager to help, I posted these comments:

Earlier this year, the National Center for Health Statistics came out with its latest numbers on illegitimacy (final data for 2006). By population subgroup, the percentage of children born out of wedlock is 70.7 percent for non-Hispanic blacks, 64.6 percent for American Indians/Alaska Natives, 49.9 percent for Hispanics, 26.6 percent for non-Hispanic whites, and 16.5 percent for Asians/Pacific Islanders. Notice any connection between those numbers and how academically competitive the members of the group are likely to be come college admissions time? 

The fact is that kids who grow up in two-parent homes are much more likely to get the support and help they need to perform well academically. Conversely, illegitimacy correlates with just about any social problem you can name (poverty, crime, dropping out of school, substance abuse, etc.), and it — not discrimination — is the principal cause of racial disparities in all these areas. See my National Review Online column here.

And you will not be surprised to hear that I do not believe this problem will be solved by giving racial preferences in college admissions to middle- and upper-class African Americans.

This is a cultural and moral problem, and I don’t have a proposed silver bullet to solve it. I would say only that, while there may be a limited role for government, most of the heavy lifting will probably have to be done by the little platoons.

(BTW, please don’t bother arguing that illegitimacy is caused by racism. The percentage of out-of-wedlock births for African Americans has actually gotten much, much higher as discrimination has diminished.)

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