Affirmative Action is dead in the United States… Now what?

The U.S. Supreme Court, as I’m sure you all know by now, upheld Michigan’s ban on affirmative action yesterday in a 6-2 decision, with Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissenting. (Elena Kagan, recused herself, presumably due to the fact that she was involved in the case prior to joining the Supreme Court, during her tenure as U.S. Solicitor General.)

While perhaps not the objective of the Supreme Court in deciding Schuette v. BAMN, or the 58% of Michigan voters who cast their ballots in 2006 in favor of the disingenuously titled “Michigan Civil Rights Initiative,” or Proposition 2, the end result will almost assuredly mean that we’ll see fewer black students at Michigan universities, and fewer college-educated black adults in the state for the foreseeable future.

It’s impossible,” said U-M Admissions Director Ted Spencer recently, “to achieve diversity on a regular basis if race cannot be used as one of many factors.” And the facts since 2006 would seem to support him on that. In spite of the fact that U-M has made an effort to take family income and other factors into account when assessing potential students, the result has still been a steady decline in diversity, as demonstrated in the following New York Times chart.


In 2001, as you can see, 10% of incoming freshmen at UM were black. By 2011, however, that number had dropped to 5%. And, over the same period, the percentage of college-aged Michigan residents who are black rose from 15% to 19% of the population. So, while the percentage of black college-aged students in the state is growing, their representation at UM, and other public universities in the state, is steadily sliding. And things are getting worse. In 2013, black enrollment at the University of Michigan dipped even further, to 4.82%.

[For what it’s worth, UM’s admission of hispanic students has remained relatively stable over this same period. It’s probably also worth noting that no one, as far as I can tell, charts asian acceptance rates.]

Michigan, by the way, is not alone. As of today, eight states have enacted legislative measures to end affirmative action, effectively making it illegal to give preferential treatment based on race when assessing applications at public institutions, like colleges. These states are; California (’96), Washington (’98), Florida (’99), Michigan (’06), Nebraska (’08), Arizona (’10), New Hampshire (’11), and Oklahoma (’12). And, you can be sure, now that the Supreme Court has weighed in, that other states will follow suit. [note: A Republican lawmaker in Wisconsin just today proposed a ballot initiative mirroring Michigan’s.]

As Justice Sotomayor noted in her lengthy, biting dissent, Michigan voters “changed the basic rules of the political process… in a manner that uniquely disadvantaged racial minorities.” And now we’re left to deal with the consequences.

Apparently some, like Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, see this as a huge victory against racism. “Our state Constitution requires equal treatment in college admissions, because it is fundamentally wrong to treat people differently based on the color of their skin… A majority of Michigan voters embraced the ideal of equal treatment in 2006, and today their decision was affirmed.”

I know it’s difficult, especially given the fact that the pro-Prop 2 folks willingly accepted the the endorsement of the KKK, but let’s take Schuette at his word when he says he wants a color-blind Michigan, where there’s a level playing field for all. How do we get there in a post-affirmative action world? How do we ensure that students in Detroit, for instance, if they work hard, can still get into the University of Michigan?

I have a few ideas, but I’d love to hear yours as well.

First, what if we ensured that inner city kids have the same kind of educational experiences that students in, say, Ann Arbor have? What if, instead of investing $9,723 per year, per pupil in Ann Arbor, like we did in 2009, and $7,660 per year, per pupil in Detroit, we spent equally across the state? Might that not go a long way toward getting us to the level playing field that Schuette claims to want? After all, how can inner city kids compete equally when admissions officers look for well-rounded students, and they’re going to schools where art, music and sports programs are being consistently slashed due to budget constraints?

Or, here’s a second idea. What if we implement a “free market” solution, allowing people to go to whichever schools they prefer? I know Republicans love free market solutions, and it could really work. Good schools would grow. And bad ones would go away. Ypsi is only about 7 miles from Ann Arbor, and Detroit is only about 15 miles from Birmingham. And I suspect that we could find donors out there to invest in buses.

Or, since State sponsorship of our institutions of higher learning has been in serious decline over the past decade, I suppose the University of Michigan could explore the possibility of turning private, which would allow them to take whomever they choose, and stay true to their commitment to diversity.

I should add that I’m only in part being sarcastic. The fact that it’s been over 50 years since the passage of the Civil Right Act, and we’re still talking about the necessity for affirmative action, tells me that maybe it’s time to explore other, more aggressive ways to address the black-white achievement gap. And, if the Republicans want to get rid of affirmative action, I say we attempt something ten times more ambitious. And I’m not talking about handing out a few laptops and encouraging our Republican Governor’s friends to set up virtual charter schools. I’m talking about putting everything on the table, including hiring the best teachers in the world, establishing inner city boarding schools, and instituting free pre-school programs.

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  1. John Galt Jr.
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    Don’t worry, though, our schools will still be able to have black students, so long as they’re willing to sacrifice their bodies and futures on the football field.

  2. anonymous
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    You could also stop considering whether someone’s mother or father attended U-M when making a decision on admission. That certainly couldn’t hurt.

  3. HHM
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    Well, yes it could hurt, Anonymous. It could hurt fundraising. It’s in the university’s best financial interest to encourage family legacies.

  4. tommy
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    This decision, same sex marriage being in limbo, and – particularly – the recent passing of the law in Georgia to allow guns to be carried anywhere including bars and schools, makes me seriously ponder what the fuck is wrong with this country.

    This Georgia law will be coming to Michigan soon. Trifecta!

  5. Posted April 23, 2014 at 8:59 pm | Permalink


  6. A.
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    We need to bring back the Black Panthers.

  7. Jcp2
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    It’s also in the university’s best financial interest to take only students that don’t need financial aid.

  8. Mr. Y
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Speaking of Bill Schuette, according to Wikipedia, he’s on the board of something called the Education Freedom Fund. Would anyone happen to have details?

  9. EOS
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Now we will be forced to evaluate people based on their abilities and the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.

  10. Lynne
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    I strongly believe that a diverse student body benefits all students. As it isn’t illegal to base admissions on things like the geographic area or income level of the student, or any number of other things such as class rank, there are already several things the U could do if they want a more diverse student body. I kind of remember reading that the University of Texas uses class rank and then counts on the self segregation by race in schools to mean that such a policy results in more racial diversity.

    Of course, that is dealing with a symptom of the problem and not the problem itself, which starts much sooner. You are right that our education system is unfair but making sure that every student in the state gets the same funding isn’t the answer. The kids in Detroit and other disadvantaged areas need *more* funding than the kids in Ann Arbor.

    Even when you consider just quality of teachers, you have to consider that a teaching job in Detroit is not the same as a teaching job in Ann Arbor. You would have to pay a teacher in Detroit much more than a teacher in Ann Arbor just to get the same quality of teacher because in a climate where teachers are judged on the test scores of their students, it is way more desirable to teach in a district with involved parents with the resources for things like outside tutoring than it is to teach in a district where a lot of parents are working three jobs just to put food on the table so they don’t have a lot of time to help out with homework and such.

  11. 734
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    The Education Freedom Fund is a non-profit run by Dick and Betsy DeVos.

    “The Education Freedom Fund is an organization based in Grand Rapids that offers scholarships to low-income youth in order to allow them to attend private schools. The organization is heavily funded by religious right foundations in West Michigan and its maximum scholarship of $1,000 annually and requirement that parents pay a minimum of $500 in tuition per year may restrict access for some students.”

  12. uncivil
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    This is the New Civil Rights movement, and both EOS and the KKK are onboard. It’s all about protecting white advantage.

  13. EOS
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    So was Martin Luther King Jr.

  14. anonymous
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Please explain, EOS. How was MLK seeking to protect white advantage?

  15. EOS
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

    Martin Luther King, Jr.

  16. EOS
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Neither MLK or I am seeking to protect white advantage. What would help far more than throwing money at urban schools is for society to encourage young women to take advantage of the free education that is available, graduate, and get married before they get pregnant.

  17. anonymous
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    …..he says with a wink, while working to make birth control illegal.

  18. EOS
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    I don’t want to make birth control illegal.

  19. EOS
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 2:13 pm | Permalink,168,9,12,1,13,185,11/431

  20. facebook stalker
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    From a Facebook friend:

    There are 314 million people in the US.
    Blacks make up only 12% of the population. 38 million
    Whites make up 72% of the population. 226 million
    20% of Americans live in poverty. 63 million
    35% of blacks live in poverty. 13 million
    13% of whites live in poverty. 29 million

  21. EOS
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    What we need, rather than affirmative action, is a return to traditional family values. Men should marry the mother of their children and assume personal responsibility for providing for their support. 35% of America’s children are being raised in single parent households. This is the number one cause for low educational outcomes. Since 1964 and Johnson’s War on Poverty, we have spent more than 15 trillion dollars and yet have essentially the same percentage of Americans living in poverty as we had then. A child does best when raised in a household with both biological parents participating in their upbringing.

  22. Tim
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    So we should force people to marry and stay married? Or are you suggesting that we abort the fetuses of unmarried women, EOS?

  23. EOS
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    No, not at all. False dichotomies.

  24. Jcp2
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    While two parents are better than one, assuming that they can get along with each other, why must they be married in the traditional way? Would a common law marriage suffice? How about cohabitation? Must they be of different genders? In a situation of spousal abuse, should there be a third party added to the family with the title of domestic mediator?

  25. anonymous
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    EOS, please clarify your position on birth control and sex education. My sense, given earlier conversations on this site, is that you were against the teaching of sex education in schools and the ready availability of birth control.

  26. Dan
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 8:17 am | Permalink,168,9,12,1,13,185,11/431

    is that really true? 74% of black children grow up in a single parent home? 74%?

    Thats unbelievable

  27. XXX
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    White people break up black families for a dozen generations under the system of slavery, and then complain afterward that black culture doesn’t share our “family values.” Pure America. God bless the troops. Etc.

  28. EOS
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Birth control is legal and should be used by persons who don’t want a baby. It should be of the type that prevents conception and not cause abortion after conception. Parents have the primary responsibility to teach their children sex ed. Sex ed in the Ypsilanti District is a program designed by Planned Parenthood. It encourages young unmarried persons to be sexually active and endorses a wide variety of deviant behavior. Parents should review the curriculum before they subject their children to this propaganda. Sex is best when shared between married couples who have vowed a commitment to each other for life.

  29. Dan
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    XXX, I’m not complaining that 74% off black families have one parent. I just find that pretty shocking. I personally support affirmative action, mostly. You cant deny that a kid from detroit public schools has a disadvantage over a kid from ann arbor public schools, with all else being equal. And if that stat is correct that 74% of black kids grow up in a single parent home, you cant deny that they are disadvantaged, statistically.

    But they could base an entrance “preference” on location or school district averages or family structure, or something, and not explicitly on race. There are white kids in detroit too

  30. EOS
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    A student raised by a single parent under poverty conditions in a bad school district is highly unlikely to be able to graduate from a prestigious University.

  31. Dan
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    A student raised by a single parent under poverty conditions in a bad school district is highly unlikely to be able to graduate from a prestigious University.

    I wouldnt say that. If a kid in those conditions manages to get high grades and score decent on standardized tests, then he/she is likely very talented. I’m not talking about letting kids with C averages into Michigan or Harvard or whatever. But if a kid from DPS has a 24 on the ACT, I would consider that to be about the same as a kid from Birmingham with a 28 on the ACT

  32. EOS
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    There are plenty of exceptions. The best student I ever encountered left his drug addicted mother’s house at 16, got an apartment, supported his two younger brothers while he worked through undergrad at U of M. He graduated from Cass Tech and U of M with honors, and then graduated from Wayne State Med School. He was highly qualified and didn’t benefit from any affirmative action.

  33. EOS
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Why would you consider a 24 on the ACT to be the same as a 28? The person who scores a 28 is better prepared to handle the academics.

  34. EOS
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Why not let the kid with a 24 get admitted to a University where it is more likely they will excel and ultimately graduate?

  35. Dan
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    I would only consider them equal if the 24 was from a borderline bankrupt school district, with horrible learning and living conditions. Someone with a score of 24 from that demonstrates exceptional talent. Talent wins over test preparation skills

  36. EOS
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Talent is indicated by achievement on the test. The kid from Birmingham with the higher score has better prepared himself for future success in an academic environment.

  37. Dan
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    and again, that is just one point to look at in the application. There are also grades, extracurriculars, etc. You dont let kids with Cs in because they are from a poor area. Unless you’re MSU :)

  38. EOS
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Comparing GPA’s between Birmingham and Detroit is meaningless.

  39. Lynne
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    One problem with test scores is that test taking itself is a skill and one that has little to do with future college performance. Some kids have the resources to go to special classes where that skill is taught and some kids don’t. It is very possible that you can have a situation where two kids with the same aptitude for college get scores which are a few points different. There is also some cultural bias on the test.

    I have to say that I find it *highly* ironic that now that our culture is dealing more with intrinsic racism rather than extrinsic racism, some of the most racist people have embraced MLK and his “I Have a Dream” speech as if we have achieved that dream here in the USA when we clearly have not.

    I think the best kind of Affirmative Action at this point is to form admission policies that aren’t based on skin color but rather are based on some other factor such as income. Since society is still racist ( I mean really? Blaming income inequality on the sex lives of black women is the kind of thing we still see even though things like white people’s policies which have imprisoned such a large number of black men are probably more to blame), you can count on a higher number of black people being poor so any program based on income will help more black kids than white kids. It has the additional advantage of helping poor white kids too who also face hurdles in our society.

  40. EOS
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    There are more than twice as many poor whites than blacks. 29 million vs. 13 million

  41. EOS
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    As if future college performance is unrelated to test taking skills. :-)

  42. EOS
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    That you can “count on” a higher number of black people being poor is an intrinsically racist stereotype. You should apologize.

  43. anonymous
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    EOS doesn’t really want kids to be raised in families with two loving parents. Just scroll back to the last post on gay marriage and read his comments.

  44. EOS
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Kids raised by two homosexuals do no better academically than those in single parent families, and typically are the biological offspring of one of the partners.

  45. Lynne
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    That you can “count on” a higher number of black people being poor is an intrinsically racist stereotype. You should apologize.

    Ok. I apologize to all of the black people in our community because discrimination and racism have had a negative economic effect.

  46. EOS
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Affirmative action based on income would favor whites more than 2:1. You are advocating discrimination.

  47. Dan
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    EOS, based on your numbers (29 million poor white people vs. 13 million poor black people), 13% of whites are “poor”, and 33% of blacks are “poor.”

  48. EOS
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Exactly. A disproportionate number of blacks are poor, yet most poor people are white.

  49. EOS
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Of the numbers of Americans who are poor, 20.6% are black and 46% are white.

  50. dragon
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Now we will be forced to evaluate people based on their abilities and the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.
    I realize you think you are ever so clever, but the fact is there have been many assholes spewing this line long before you started polluting this site. The, MLK gave one speech that contained one sentence, right wing trope seems to live on and on…

    “Martin Luther King, in my view, was a conservative,” right”;wing media critic David Horowitz declared on Crossfire (9/5/94), “because he stood up for, you know, belief in the content of your character”the value that conservatives defend today.”
    n the Washington Post (4/26/91), Charles Krauthammer pitted King against diversity. Progressives, he writes, “have traded King’s dream for something called diversity…. It is the opponents of race”;conscious public policy who today speak in the name of values that King championed.”
    The National Review (3/20/95) trashed affirmative action with a cover story depicting a black kid, a kid with a Mexican sombrero, and a white girl happily climbing ladders, while two white boys fall down “the slippery slope of quotas.” The lead of the article: “The civil”;rights movement has strayed far from the color”;blind principles of Martin Luther King, Jr.”
    When Gov. Mike Foster of Lousiana signed an executive order on Jan. 11 to abolish affirmative action, he presented the act as a fulfillment of King’s dream. “I can’t find anywhere in King’s writings,” Foster was quoted in the New York Times (1/12/96), “that King wanted reverse discrimination. He just wanted to end all discrimination based on color.”
    n To Renew America, Newt Gingrich praised King as an individualist who opposed “group rights.” And in promoting the “California Civil Rights Initiative,” a ballot measure that would ban all state affirmative action, Gov. Pete Wilson invokes King’s name more than preachers quote the Bible.

    From:Paul Rockwell, The Right Has a Dream: Martin Luther King as an Opponent of Affirmative Action.

    Setting the record straight

    The exploitation of King’s name, the distortion of his teachings for political gain, is an ugly development. The term “affirmative action” did not come into currency until after King’s death “but it was King himself, as chair of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who initiated the first successful national affirmative action campaign: “Operation Breadbasket.”

    In Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago and other cities, King staffers gathered data on the hiring patterns of corporations doing business in black communities, and called on companies to rectify disparities. “At present, SCLC has Operation Breadbasket functioning in some 12 cities, and the results have been remarkable,” King wrote (quoted in Testament of Hope, James Washington, ed.), boasting of “800 new and upgraded jobs [and] several covenants with major industries.”

    King was well aware of the arguments used against affirmative action policies. As far back as 1964, he was writing in Why We Can’t Wait: “Whenever the issue of compensatory treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree; but he should ask nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic.”

    King supported affirmative action”;type programs because he never confused the dream with American reality. As he put it, “A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for the Negro” to compete on a just and equal basis (quoted in Let the Trumpet Sound, by Stephen Oates).

    In a 1965 Playboy interview, King compared affirmative action”;style policies to the GI Bill: “Within common law we have ample precedents for special compensatory programs…. And you will remember that America adopted a policy of special treatment for her millions of veterans after the war.”

    In King’s teachings, affirmative action approaches were not “reverse discrimination” or “racial preference.” King promoted affirmative action not as preference for race over race (or gender over gender), but as a preference for inclusion, for equal oportunity, for real democracy. Nor was King’s integration punitive: For him, integration benefited all Americans, male and female, white and non”;white alike. And contrary to Gingrich, King insisted that, along with individual efforts, collective problems require collective solutions.

    Like Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, King viewed affirmative action as a means to achieving a truly egalitarian and color”;blind society. To destroy the means, the gradual process by which equality is achieved, destroys the dream itself. And the use of King’s name in this enterprise only adds derision to destruction.

  51. EOS
    Posted April 26, 2014 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    That was a significantly more enlightening post than your usual uncomprehendable poem. Except never once in my previous posts did I claim that affirmative action was reverse discrimination or somehow harmful to white advantage.

    I think it is not beneficial for the individual students. It may make progressive whites feel good to admit a student of color to a prestigious university, but if their academic preparation is insufficient they will drop out and incur large student loan debt in the process. Lynne may feel her education is improved by sitting next to a person of color, but I would suggest that she seek out opportunities to form relationships with persons of different racial and ethnic groups in all aspects of her life. Intervention at the college level is far too late to make a difference.

    Mark’s suggestion is closer to what has to happen, “I’m talking about putting everything on the table, including hiring the best teachers in the world, establishing inner city boarding schools, and instituting free pre-school programs.” But when poorly educated teen moms have kids, when neighborhoods are run by gangs that sell drugs, and where high academic performance gets a kid beat up or ridiculed for “acting white”, then all the money and social programs in the world won’t help. It has to start at an early age with the family and community.

    We need far more after school tutoring, writing, and enrichment programs. We need more mentoring programs for fatherless boys. And these programs need to be initiated, funded and administered by community members who will hold the children accountable – not another federally funded program that gives money and a paycheck to a few adults who have no stake in the outcome. If we want to make a difference, then it has to start with us. And if the next generation is to have any chance at all – it must start with us.

  52. EOS
    Posted April 26, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Incomprehensible. My bad – the other word doesn’t exist.

  53. Jcp2
    Posted April 26, 2014 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    EOS, what if the community in need of such intervention is short on funds and/or administrative talent?

  54. EOS
    Posted April 26, 2014 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    Every community is short on funds but has huge resources of untapped talent. It takes an investment of time, not money. If we want to correct injustice then we need to invest some time. It’s about every college graduate going into Detroit and helping a young person for a sustained period of time. It’s about sharing your skills, your time, and your compassion with the less fortunate. It’s really simple. Love your neighbor as yourself. Give someone in need a hand up. Teach a young person to fish for themselves, or to read at grade level, or to stay out of gangs, or to aspire to greatness. Every one of us should find a way to give back to others what someone else invested in our lives at some point. There is no government program that can fix our problems but a community of caring individuals can. If you are not volunteering on a regular basis – you should be.

  55. wobblie
    Posted April 27, 2014 at 5:13 am | Permalink

    EOS, you sound like Hillary in that last post. Almost like a Christian Socialist. Mean while the Corporatist continue the push for privatization and the dumming down of our educational system. Affirmative Action is meaningless in the two tier educational system we are creating–Money will equal access and mobility which will be the prerequisites of getting a quality education in the future.

  56. EOS
    Posted April 27, 2014 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    I wouldn’t put my kid in a corporate run charter school or a public school. All you need is aptitude, a high amount of parental involvement, and an environment where real academic achievement is valued.

  57. K
    Posted April 29, 2014 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    The Detroit Free Press is asking the same question today and they come to a similar conclusion. We need to invest in k-12 education.

    Overhaul education

    It’s difficult to talk about this stuff, because it requires confronting some relatively ugly facts: There’s a broad educational achievement gap between white and nonwhite kids, kids who come from middle-class or professional families and kids raised in poverty. And because poverty disproportionately affects minorities, it’s impossible to separate race from the conversation.

    There’s also a lot of misunderstanding about how affirmative action works. Race-conscious admissions policies don’t allow universities to leapfrog less-deserving black kids over more-deserving white ones, as some critics claim; acknowledging that racial and ethnic diversity benefits college campuses, those policies simply allowed universities to consider race as a factor in assembling an incoming class from a pool of comparably qualified applicants.

    But the fact is that fewer nonwhite students apply to college, pursue college-prep coursework in high school, or take college entrance exams.

    “Our schools, from very early on, are unequal,” said Julie Posselt, an assistant professor in U-M’s School of Education. “And the outcomes that the schools produce are unequal … because of deep segregation. Because of the way the tax base funds school districts according largely to residents’ real estate values, you will have Detroit schools working with much less money than in the suburbs.”

    The obvious answer would be an across-the-board improvement in the quality of education, the kind of sweeping reform that would result in each Michigan student receiving the same high-quality K-12 education — and that’s the goal we should ultimately strive to reach. But without broad reform of the way we fund education in Michigan, such systemic change will likely continue to prove elusive.

    In the interim, school districts across Michigan employ effective outreach programs to prep minority kids for college, but there’s just not enough money to reach the number of students who could benefit from such intervention.

    Why is this important? Well, access to high-quality education is the cornerstone of democracy. Without an informed electorate, without civic, business and political leaders that reflect the diversity of our state, the system doesn’t work. Even if you don’t care about that sort of thing, there’s this: Michigan’s nonwhite population is growing, but the state is overwhelmingly failing most nonwhite kids. Without improving the educational system at every level, this state will be operating at a measurable deficit in terms of attracting businesses, promoting job growth, or any other economic metric that rests on human capital.

    But for state government to make funding these programs a priority, voters — and the folks who fund campaigns — have to care. We’ve seen what happens when politicians get motivated. In the last two years, Gov. Rick Snyder has added more than $100 million to the state’s early-childhood education budget, prompted in no small part by support from both the business and educational communities. This is a step in the right direction, and should have a direct impact on those students’ long-term educational outcomes.

    Still, for a lot of white Michiganders, it’s difficult to understand why minority students can’t just get into college the old-fashioned way.

    It’s just not that simple, said Michael Yocum, executive director of learning services at Oakland Schools, the county’s intermediate school district.

    “There are issues where students come out of poverty and they are simply behind, significantly, coming into school, and it’s really hard to catch up without serious concerted effort that demands more resources,” Yocum said. “In the places where those resources are needed the most, they’re the least available.”
    Proven tactics

    Helping at-risk kids from underserved communities make it to college isn’t rocket science.

    A pilot program started in Yocum’s district last year was geared to minority, at-risk kids, offering joint enrollment at the student’s high school and at Oakland Community College, with tuition paid by the district. The three-year program teaches “soft skills,” like how to navigate collegiate bureaucracy or how to interact with professors — not that simple, if you’re the first person in your family to attend college. The district also offers intensive reading interventions, geared at getting kids up to speed, and is working to increase the number of students who pass algebra — required in college-prep tracks — each year.

    The program served 50 kids in its first year; 19 made the dean’s list during the program’s first semester, and Oakland plans to add another hundred students next year. Yet the county has thousands of students who could benefit from the program, Yocum said.

    Oakland’s program is by no means unique — districts throughout the region offer similar services to students. But there’s never enough money to reach all the kids who need help.

    “Education is the basis in our opinion, for all the other stuff,” said Shirley Stancato, president of New Detroit, a nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing race relations in southeast Michigan. The nonprofit’s most recent report captures the attainment gap between white and non-white Michiganders in stark terms. “When that gap is reduced, then a lot of the other things fall into place. When you have some education, you have the ability you have the ability to make a higher salary, to buy a home …”

    Tough conversations

    It’s difficult to talk about the reasons why affirmative action is necessary. For a lot of white Americans, addressing head-on the ways our nation has failed nonwhite Americans doesn’t feel comfortable. It’s tempting to think that if you’re not racist, race isn’t a problem, or that if you were born into modest circumstances and worked hard, you didn’t benefit from racial privilege.

    Here’s how President Lyndon B. Johnson described the need for affirmative action in a speech to the 1965 graduating class of Howard University, on the eve of signing the Civil Rights Act: “You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘You are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.”

    Unlike other immigrant populations, Johnson said, black Americans were uprooted from their homes, disconnected from family, wealth and culture, then brutalized and enslaved for more than 200 years. The scars left by that forcible disruption — and the ensuing decades of legal discrimination enacted at every level of government and ably chronicled in the Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion in the affirmative action case — don’t fade easily. This is real, measurable damage, and to suggest that black Americans en masse should have rebounded from centuries of abuse in a generation is sophistry of the worst sort.

    In other words, “if there are historical inequities that our government is responsible for creating, government should also be responsible for establishing policies that help reduce those inequalities,” said Posselt of U-M.

    In that 1965 speech, Johnson went on to detail the statistical differences between white and black Americans: bigger gaps in the number of two-parent homes, lower educational attainment, higher unemployment.

    A lot has changed since then. But not enough. And with affirmative action off the table, it’s important to find ways to not lose any more ground.

  58. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 29, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    I never know what to make of the claim that Detroit Public schools are RELATIVELY underfunded. Their per pupil spending is actually high. I believe Detroit’s per pupil spending is significantly higher than Ann Ann and Ypsilanti and higher than 80 percent of the state. Can someone who knows more about funding explain what I am missing? Is per pupil funding a statistic that can be trusted? I really don’t know…

  59. EOS
    Posted April 29, 2014 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    Per pupil funding can be compared but often doesn’t translate into more money being spent in the classroom for educational purposes. If there is more vandalism and theft, there are associated costs for repair or replacement. Schools in high crime areas often pay for guards, surveillance cameras and metal detection which can help make a safer environment, but money spent on security can’t be spent on educational items. Schools in areas of high poverty often provide the only medical treatment a student receives, the one good meal a student may eat, a warm coat in the winter and may need more counseling services as well. They are far less likely to have PTA’s that provide funds and far more likely to have transient and homeless students. You can’t learn as well if you are sick, or hungry, or worried about where you are going to sleep. It all costs and takes time away from instruction.

  60. Dan
    Posted April 29, 2014 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    You can’t learn as well if you are sick, or hungry, or worried about where you are going to sleep.

    so shouldnt a student that thrives in those situations be elevated to a tier of higher potential, given better conditions?

  61. EOS
    Posted April 29, 2014 at 11:15 pm | Permalink


    In my opinion, students who thrive under those conditions will show evidence of advanced intellectual skill levels through performance on standardized tests. Students with high IQ’s do come from that environment. But if a student has had the deck stacked against them and they haven’t mastered a sufficient amount of high school material, then throwing them into an environment where everybody else is better prepared makes it very unlikely that they will succeed.

    What might work better is to identify the highest achievers and provide an extra two years of a high intensity, “prep school” before starting college, where could reach the same levels of achievement and ACT/SAT scores as the other students who they will be compared against in the elite universities. In Detroit schools, students with college potential are encouraged to go to Cass Tech or MLK High School, and the level of instruction is significantly better than the other high schools, albeit not as good as most in the suburbs. Some are ready for college when they graduate, but many could benefit from additional studies. I think if the ultimate result is a higher percentage of college graduates, then a couple extra years of study is time well spent.

  62. EOS
    Posted April 30, 2014 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    I wonder if there are extensive studies that have looked at the characteristics of those who “benefit” from affirmative action? My guess is that it is minority students who have professional parents and have attended good school districts their whole life who get offered admission when their test scores are somewhat lower than the majority. Should two students who have both attended Ann Arbor Schools and received educational advantages for their entire life have different admission standards at the U of M based on race alone?

  63. Collin Merenoff
    Posted October 27, 2016 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    It’s very simple. Discriminating against people is always wrong. But admitting people to a school or business is not just about people; it’s also about test questions. If an admission system based solely on test questions produces a racial bias, then there is a conflict between test questions and people. People have rights; test questions don’t.

    An admission result is primarily about math. Specifically, it’s matrix algebra. The matrix of admission scores has people on one axis and test questions on the other. The way the matrix is usually read, policies read off it discriminate against people. Why? The answer is obvious — the matrix is facing the wrong way!!!

    Just transpose the matrix before you read the policy, and then the discrimination will be against test questions instead of people. Before each year’s testing begins, add up last year’s question scores, separated by race and other discriminatory categories, find coefficients that adjust the scoring to remove the biases on average, and then lock in those numbers so they can’t change until all the current year’s admissions have been finalized.

    That way, if anyone claims reverse discrimination, they won’t have a case.

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