That was the feeling I and countless other Hispanic college graduates had when we saw a recent New York Times article titled “Even With Affirmative Action, Blacks and Hispanics Are More Underrepresented at Top Colleges Than 35 Years Ago.”
I was at a loss to understand how such a demeaning headline slips through the editing process of a major American news company when everyone who isn’t living under a rock recognizes that blacks, Latinos and other ethnic and racial minorities are already under siege in this country, most notably from the president of the United States, and don’t need more negative stereotype-building.
And in this era of people skimming headlines online and on social media platforms without ever bothering to read the story, it’s a double hit.
“This is a clear example of negative framing. The ‘even with affirmative action’ line puts Latinos in a ‘beyond help’ category,” wrote Victor Landa, editor-in-chief of the Hispanic-focused news website News Taco. “It implies the fallacy that Latinos only make it into elite schools because of federal set-asides, even though the number of Latinos in Ivy League schools is growing. That part of the story is buried in the third paragraph.”
Indeed, the story notes that “More Hispanics are attending elite schools, but the increase has not kept up with the huge growth of young Hispanics in the United States, so the gap between students and the college-age population has widened. ... Blacks and Hispanics have gained ground at less selective colleges and universities but not at the highly selective institutions.”
Despite its misleading headline, the article goes on to put the focus of poor college graduation outcomes exactly where it belongs: on the shoulders of public elementary and secondary schools that pump out graduates who are neither college- nor career-ready.
This is the very point that always gets lost when the thorny and overly emotional topic of affirmative action and college admissions comes into the national spotlight: While everyone is busy frowning upon whether universities take race or ethnicity into account when making admissions decisions, poorly performing schools in underfunded communities get a pass for graduating students who aren’t prepared for either careers or college.
Why does the discussion about affirmative action stop at whether universities should compensate for past wrongs and encourage diversity by admitting students of color with lower test scores than their peers?
Why does it rarely, if ever, get to the more fundamental question of why we aren’t demanding that more schools with large populations of blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and other minorities close the academic achievement gap?
Some think nothing of insisting that it is equitable for institutions of higher learning to lower their expectations for students of color. Yet these same people seem to have given up on expecting that public schools will adequately prepare the most vulnerable students to compete for seats at elite universities.
It’s a national blind spot -- public education has been off the radar for years. No presidential candidates made education a centerpiece on the campaign trail leading up to the 2016 elections. Neither presidential candidate was asked about specific policy proposals for shoring up education during the debates.
We could bemoan that the Trump administration is so wrapped up in base-pleasing issues like restricting affirmative action at colleges and moving toward using public school funds for private school vouchers, but there’s plenty of blame to go around for the seemingly intractable puzzle of how to improve education.
For instance, failing schools are given latitude because of poor funding. But no one ever talks about the fact that the Obama administration spent $11 billion in School Improvement Grants and Race to the Top Grants to fix failing schools and basically ended up with nothing to show for it.
To be sure, getting more students of color into college won’t be easy, but it’s certainly not a lost cause.
Actually, it’s far simpler than fighting the contentious battle over whether and how private elite universities should populate their campuses: If we want more students of color to get into and graduate from college, we need to get serious about making K-12 public education work for them.