March 21, 2005

Something better than that old lame Horse?

Affirmative Action is a divisive issue in the United States. Thousands of colleges, federal/state agencies, businesses, etc. use this program to promote diversity and aid in helping minorities raise their educational and financial position in society. Stakeholders are bitterly divided as to the success or failure of Affirmative Action. Whether you're opposed to or in favor of AA, the program is clearly not working. Take a look at some statistics from the "big three" jobs. Of course by that I mean doctors, lawyers and scientists. Everyone always refers to these occupations sets as a barometer for financial and academic success of people.

Blacks are 13.3 percent of the U.S. population.

Doctors: On average only 4% of doctors are black.

Lawyers: At the 250 largest firms in the nation, blacks are lagging woefully behind in representation. Despite the fact that Affirmative Action is responsible for 80% of the admitted black students at the nations top 26 law firms, black lawyers haven't gained much ground. Though if Law schools operated on a strict meritocracy system, hardly any blacks would fill seats at those schools.

Look at this law firm in St. Louis, Mo (not among the largest 250). St. Louis city is 53% black, yet out of the 143 attorneys that practice there only three of them are black!

(Interesting side bar: I chose to profile this firm because a friend of mine's wife is an attorney there. She set me up with one of her attorney friends that worked there, and then 2 months later she—inexplicably—dumped me. To say that I took it bad would be an understatement. I'm not going to tell you who it was, look through the pictures yourself, you'll see her, but you'll never know for sure).

Scientists: This is truly sad. JBHE claims that blacks received none of the1,742 PhDs awarded in 46 specialized scientific fields in 2003. And there is no doubt that research and discovery in these areas are going to lead future noble prizes and other such international science and mathematics awards for the scientists involved while creating substantial improvements in technology, medicine and everyday lives. Again, no black people.

I know individuals too often play the hard percentages game. I'm not saying that because blacks make up around 13 percent of the population in 2003 that they needed to have earned 232 of those aforementioned degrees, but it isn't unreasonable to think that they should hold at least 75-100 of them.

To me statistics like this show how inadequate such entitlement programs are. They do help certain people, absolutely. But the many strides blacks have made over the years still don't come close to the level the black community should have attained—what affirmative action's original legislation was suppose to address.

In high school I opposed affirmative action (and I still do now). Although I really didn't know the details of AA, what it entailed, or how it actually worked. All I knew was that AA allowed supposedly under qualified black college students to take the seats of more qualified white kids.

When I entered college I enrolled in an introductory political science course which detailed some important legal cases. In that class we studied several court decisions, but to me, the most indelible case was UC Regents vs. Bakke. The reality of UC Davis's admission standards shocked me: 2.5 GPA, 30th percentile MCAT scores for admitted minority medical students??? I thought that if the pool of white applicants averaged, say, a 3.9 GPA and 85th percentile on the MCAT that the affirmative action admits would stand at around 3.4-3.6 GPA with 60-75th percentile MCAT scores, arguably unfair, but reasonable.

Keep in mind UCD did not explicitly state that they were setting aside quotas for blacks. On their medical school application, students had the option of checking the "economically and/or educationally disadvantaged" box. Doing so would automatically place you in the far less competitive "special" applicant pool. Though some whites did select this option, not one of them was admitted under what amounted to an entirely separate evaluation program.

This egregious barrel scrapping hurts both doctors and the people they serve. It is especially problematic since many black doctors practice medicine in black communities. The implication of under qualified black doctors caring for predominately black patients is potentially disastrous for blacks in this country because many don't trust white docotors.

So what to do? Well, for one Bill Cosby was right. You can't blame white people anymore and you can't expect hand outs. What is needed a focus on education, not entitlement.

Consider some dated, but nonetheless startling statistics from Arthur Hu:

From tests among Houston and Minneapolis high school students to Washington State policemen and California teachers, blacks failed to match their white or Asian peers and in many cases they fell significantly below them.

Why is this happening? Is it white racism? Is it Hip Hop? The general anti-intellectualism in the black culture? A clear answer remains elusive. But to be sure, black's priorities don't give much hope for their future.

Back in St. Louis I watched many an episode of "MTV cribs" (a Television show, that lets celebrities show off how wealthy they are by letting cameras film their lavish "houses"). A large percentage of featured homes on this program were/are owned by prominent black athletes and entertainers. What struck me as odd is that I never saw any books in their houses. In fact one black guest showed the cameras his "library" but he didn't have any books on the shelves! Certainly I can't make assumptions about American black's reading habits (or lack there of) based solely on a few episodes of show profiling people, to whom education is most like not a huge priority.....can I? Well I don't know. I mean is what Chris Rock said about black people, books and Kryptonite really true?

It's not entirely accurate to use book purchases as a proxy for education in general, but their certainly is a correlation. In 2002 blacks spend $303 million on books, but total sales for that year amounted to nearly $27 billion. This means blacks accounted for just over 1% of all book purchases! Meanwhile, their consumption of liquor and electronics continues at a high rate; unfortunately problems of this nature can severely harm young blacks years down the road.

So is there a solution to these problems??? Perhaps.

Meyerhoff Men (and women)

In 1988 philanthropists Robert and Jane Meyerhoff (white people) endowed a gift to the University of Maryland at Baltimore County (UMBC). Their goal was to help educate future African American scientists.

"The goal of the Meyerhoff Program is to increase the number of minorities, particularly African-Americans, who earn Ph.D.s in the sciences, mathematics, computer science, and engineering."
--- UMBC

The UMBC Meyerhoff program is headed by Freeman A. Hrabowski III, the African American president of UMBC since 1993. Dr. Hrabowski earned a PhD in mathematics at the age of 24 and became a Dean at 26. Since taking the lead slot at UMBC and coordinating the Meyerhoff program he's transformed this undistinguished school into a national academic power. He actively recruits the finest black students in the country to Baltimore; luring them away from more prestigious universities with the promise of superior financial and academic support. His efforts have not only resulted in academic success for his students. The 36 year old college has also won several college chess championships.

By the way, the school has no football team.

This is not ineffectual UC Berkeley crap where there's just a bunch of arguing and worrying about state budgets. This program is not Affirmative Action, there is not entitlement and no excuses. The students here simply aren't allowed to fail. They work their asses off.

The Meyerhoff program places high expectations for its admitted students. However, the program also has a huge support system. This includes mentoring, training, academic and career advising, group study, and research opportunities.

The whole thing starts with the "Summer Bridge program" aimed at helping the transition to college. It focuses on intense learning and time management. Moreover, Academic counseling and advising is continual throughout the students’ college years and students take advantage of tutors and study groups.

The program also provides faculty mentors as well as professional and research mentors. Additionally, Meyerhoff Scholars participate in research projects on campus and summer projects in off campus research laboratories.

Why don't these kids just go to Ivy League schools? Well there's ample evidence that, for whatever reason, blacks and other minorities under perform in college relative to whites and Asians. That there are no support groups, they come from schools that inadequately prepared them and many get frustrated and drop out; both of which have been touted as reasons for the lack of black success in college. Hence, the need for such a unique program.

Scholars are supported not only by school professors and administrators, but by the NIH, NASA, the National Security Agency, AT&T, Chevron, and Apple Computer to name a few. These guys are the best of the best. They have received A's in high school Calculus and have passed AP math tests, the best among them scoring well above 750 on the SAT math section.

As you can see, receiving a Meyerhoff scholarship isn't just getting a free ride and a counselor who checks your progress from time to time. The Meyerhoff program is like a word class university within a third tier commuter college. And the competition for such an opportunity is fierce. Out of nearly 1500 applicants the Meyerhoff program accepted 50, just over 3%. No college in the country has so tough an admission standard.

And college is only the initial foray into academics. The scholarship recipients are expected to enter grad school--and 85% do. Out of the 372 graduates since the program's first year, 138 have earned PhDs/MDs, a rate that out performs nearly every college in the nation; many others graduates have masters degrees in science and engineering. In fact, these students have gone on to earn advanced degrees at Harvard, Yale, MIT, Penn, Georgia Tech, Columbia, Duke to name a few.

"I realized that it wasn't a program where they just give you money and you do okay in your classes," says Hedgepeth, 30, who's completing his residency at Harvard. "They were pushing me to do my best. It's a priceless feeling, knowing that everyone wants you to succeed."

--UMBC Meyerhoff Scholarship grad Chester Hedgepeth

No other program even comes close to the success of UMBC.


So maybe this is the solution. Instead of divisive entitlement programs that just admit poorly qualified blacks to colleges and then leave them adrift, why doesn't every college in the country institute a program like the one at UMBC? There are around 3000 four year colleges in this country. What If they adopt the same type of scholarship program that UMBC has; and admitted a similar number (50) of students each year? A multitude of circumstances would invariably preclude many colleges from offering a program or admitting as many as 50 (quite simply there may not be enough living in the area or willing to go there, or their enrollment is too small, etc.), but many colleges would undoubtedly admit more than that. If 1500 colleges enrolled on average 40 students a year in a Meyerhoff-esc program, graduating them and sending them off for advanced study, in 35 years there would be over 2 million graduates in the workplace, in management positions, the research lab, the university, industry, pharmaceuticals, bio-tech, computer technology, etc., etc.......Then blacks both young and old could have a substantial number of role models, something that is severely lacking in the "real world" as well as higher education, many complain.

Now I know that its probably more important to start changing lives at the primary and elementary school level. The UMBC model, is a good start, but it may reach many too late. Additionally there is the need for people to put up money for such scholarship programs.

What to do about catching these kids before they go astray is beyond me. But the Meyerhoff program is far superior to Affirmative Action and it actually works. It would take a great feat of social engineering to reproduce Meyerhoff like successes for millions of school children. Someone else needs to think of a way to make that work, I can't do it.....I mean, hey, I'm no Meyerhoff scholar.

But at least take that horse behind the barn and put a bullet in its head.......


Laura McConnell said...

I think, Tyler, that you are missing the whole point of affirmative action. See, in this country, regardless of what we might want to believe, blacks simply are not treated fairly. Due to the fact that most people who live in poverty live in black communities, their public schools are even more underfunded than the public schools we attended. Furthermore, because high crime and poverty tend to go hand in hand it is often hard to get quality educators into these poorly funded schools. Not to mention the fact that most of these schools cannot compete with schools in white, upper class communities in terms of pay for teachers.

While it's true that Affirmative Action has its problems, it also has its positive aspects. By allowing more blacks to attend college, they are also given a chance at a higher wage scale, thereby raising the median income for black communities, which in turn enables them to live in higher income areas and send their kids to proper schools and give them a fighting chance.

Furthermore, it's highly insulting and also erroneous to assume that the reason that many blacks fail at higher education is that they simply don't work hard enough. Statistics show that the education system (including those standardized tests that are so important) is unfairly slanted against blacks.

So, what's the solution? Ideally, it would be that our government, which created the situation in the first place, would step in to make inner-city and economically disadadvantaged schools competitive with the schools that those of us in predominately white areas are able to attend.

That doesn't seem to be happening any time soon. And since no one else wants to help a community clearly in need of a helping hand, not a hand out, but a little assistance, Affirmative Action still stands as the most powerful way for blacks to fix the situation on their own without the help they so richly deserve.

Tyler said...

Though the Blog will officially show this comment as posted by me, the below content is an email response to my article by Sinead Klement, a teacher in Sacramento:

Somethings I'd considered when thinking about the achievement gap between blacks and whites are:

1. early childhood education- research shows that the average black child encounters about 10 million different vocabulary words by the time he/she enters
elementary school, whereas the average white child
encounters about 35 million. Preschool vocabulary
knowledge is a strong predictor of reading performance in early elementary school and reading performance in
early elementary school is a strong indicator of
success in later schooling. You've seen the adds and
they're true. The first few years of life are the
most crucial when I come to brain development, etc.
I'm my opinion, based on everything, I've read on the
subject, if we invested heavily on early childhood
education, then affirmative action wouldn't be needed
at the university level.
2. Test bias- I could write a book on this topic, so
I'll try to be brief. Standardized tests like the SAT are normed on the people who typically do well on
these kinds of tests (and we know who they are.)
Questions that that group doesn't do well on are
thrown out, even if other groups do well on those
questions. The result of this practice is the same
group that has always done well on the test continues
to do well. I didn't make this up. I met a guy who
works for ETS at a conference last summer and he told me how test questions were selected and I wanted to puke first and second start a revolution. Also, the state standardized test have completely biased
questions. I know I signed a confidentially agreement
when I administered the test last year, so I'll speak
fairly generally. The reading comprehension passages last year where on the differences between
snowboarders and snow skiers, and other typical past times of middle to upper class white folk. Background knowledge is a huge part of reading comprehension. Experience with snowboarders and snow skiers definitely would help in understanding the passage. How many black, Latino, and southeast Asian people do these activities? This is only one of many