July 7, 2003

Affirmative action isn't an education pass

By: AFF Editors

Raul DamasAlthough the Supreme Court’s decision in the University of Michigan affirmative action case is being hailed as a victory for “diversity,” one can’t help but notice that little is being said about how any of this will actually improve minorities’ schools or help minority students prepare for their future.

Black and Hispanic students continue to lag behind their White non-Hispanic counterparts in almost every key indicator, except for high school dropout rates. Yet affirmative action helps only those lucky few who’ve managed to make it through our nation’s troubled public high schools.

The fact remains that even after the Supreme Court’s affirmative action decision, nothing has changed for the vast majority of Black and Hispanic schoolchildren.

Indeed, things may have just gotten much worse.

Letting Democrats pretend that they’ve done something to improve the chances of minority students would simply eliminate whatever chance those students had of getting their schools improved or their options expanded.

In my work researching the nation’s Hispanic population, I’ve realized that this important population group differs only slightly from the U.S. population as a whole. Like the rest of the country, education is a major concern for Hispanics. However, Hispanics differ from the rest of the country in their opinion of their own local schools. You see, most Americans will tell you that although public schools, in general, need to be improved, theirs are OK. Hispanics, on the contrary, believe that if public schools are bad, their local schools are worse.

Clearly, Hispanics are a population group that will respond favorably to a party and its candidates if they take action on education reform. The Republican Party’s support for educational freedom, in the form of vouchers, tax credits and charter schools, is the perfect solution to Hispanic parents’ and voters’ concerns. And our stance on education reform also resonates with Black parents of school-age children, which brings us back to the issue of affirmative action.

Every moment the Democrats spend talking about affirmative action is time they don’t have to spend explaining why they oppose school choice and, by extension, the minority parents who support such reforms. Whenever you see Democrats patting themselves on the back for “saving” affirmative action, that’s a Democrat who’s not telling us why our public schools are in such sorry shape in the first place.

Now with their “victory” at the Supreme Court, they’ll be even less likely to tackle these tough questions.

That means it’s now our job to ask the tough questions that need to be answered.

Recall that affirmative action’s supporters believe that, were it not for such programs, minorities wouldn’t be well represented in our colleges and universities.

So, our first question should be, “Why is that?”

Why are Hispanic students much less likely to finish high school than any other student group?

Why is it that, although 73% of Hispanics support “taxpayer funded vouchers” to help students get out of failing schools, Democrats oppose tossing students this lifeline?

Why is it that if Hispanic students face such difficulties largely because of trouble with the English language, Democrats oppose the programs, like language immersion, that actually give Hispanic children the tools they need to achieve?

And, most importantly, how will affirmative action in college admissions solve any of the problems listed above? How will affirmative action help increase the number of minorities who graduate from high school? How will race-based preferences improve the standards that determine how minority students perform once they do get into college?

Focusing on affirmative action gives Democrats a free pass by making it seem like they’re doing something about educating minorities, when in actuality Democrats do everything they can to maintain the status quo in education.

As Republicans concerned about the future of our nation, it’s our responsibility to refocus public attention away from affirmative action, which helps just a tiny handful of students, to education reform and school choice. It is choice and competition, not quotas and preferences, that will actually help an entire generation of students, especially minorities, achieve more than was ever thought possible.

As the U.S. Census Bureau just informed us, Hispanics are now the nation’s largest minority. By 2050, one-quarter of the U.S. population will be Hispanic.

Needless to say, the future success of our nation is directly tied to our ability to educate and prepare today’s youth for the challenges that lie ahead. As today’s Latino schoolchildren will constitute a very large part of our future population, their education should be of primary importance to us all.

So let’s not give Democrats a pass on an issue as important as education. The next time somebody tells you how great it is that affirmative action was “protected,” ask them what that means for the Black and Hispanic students still in the same failing schools they were in before the Court’s decision.

Raul Damas is director of operations at Opiniones Latinas, a Hispanic-focused polling firm.