Carter-Ford Panel Says Race Issues 'Moving Backward'
Charging that America is "moving backward" in its efforts to ensure full participation by minority citizens in the nation's life and prosperity, a panel of leaders from education, business, and government last week urged all segments of the society to work toward boosting opportunities for minorities.
In a report issued here, the 34-member commission--whose honorary co-chairmen were former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald R. Ford--acknowledges that minorities have made gains in educational achievement and income since the 1960's.
But these gains appear to have slowed or reversed, it states, and the disparities between minorities and the white majority are widening at a time when the minority proportion of the population is growing.
Failing to eliminate these gaps by the end of the century--when minorities will constitute an estimated one-third of the nation's population--would have grave consequences for all Americans, the panel concludes.
"Our democracy simply cannot succeed if one-third of our people--characterized by the color of their skin and their ethnic identity--are essentially cut off from participation in our national life," the commission's chairman, Frank H.T. Rhodes, president of Cornell University, said at a press conference.
"If we fail to address this problem adequately," he continued, "we will face not only social injustice, but also social disharmony and disruption."
"Such a failure," Mr. Rhodes warned, "would endanger our national security, as well as threaten our ability to compete in the international marketplace."
The panel, appointed by the American Council on Education and the Education Commission of the States, calls on colleges to strengthen efforts to recruit and retain minority students, and to work with schools to improve their precollegiate academic preparation.
In addition, it proposes that elected officials lead efforts to assure minority advancement and stimulate economic growth; that private and voluntary organizations initiate new programs to boost minority achievement and participation; and that minority public officials and groups expand their roles within the minority community. And it calls for a "new vision of affirmative action" that would stress voluntary efforts to expand opportunities for qualified minorities.
The goal of such efforts, the report states, is to eliminate "the gaps that mark our minority population as disadvantaged."
"Our hope," it says, "is that in 20 years, an examination of the statistics indicating educational access and achievement, employment and income, life expectancy, and other measures of social well being ... will reveal no disadvantage for minorities in comparison with other groups in the population."
At least one member of the panel--Gov. John A. Ashcroft of Missouri--refused to sign the report. Mr. Ashcroft considered its conclusions "too negative," according to a spokesman. Another panelist, former U.S. Secretary of State William P. Rogers, had declined as of last week to indicate whether he would sign the document.
The panel, known as the Commission on Minority Participation in Education and American Life, was formed in January and charged with issuing a "clarion call" on the need to reverse lagging minority participation in higher education and other sectors of society. (See Education Week, Jan. 27, 1988.)
Its distinguished roster of members included former Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, four governors, three former U.S. secretaries of state, corporate executives, civil-rights leaders, and college presidents.
According to Mr. Rhodes, the report's title--"One Third of a Nation"--is both a reference to the growing minority population and a reminder of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's famous phrase describing the Americans most needing help during the Great Depression.
The report cites evidence that "the faltering pace" of minority advancement can be found "everywhere in our society--in our schools, on our college campuses, on the street corners of our cities."
"The statistics by which we measure our social and economic health and well-being clearly indicate that progress has virtually halted," it states, "and in many areas we have lost ground."
It notes, for example, that:
- Black median family income, which jumped from 54 percent of the white median in the 1950's to 61.5 percent in 1975, had fallen to 57.5 percent of the white median by 1985.
- Although the average scores for black students taking the Scholastic Aptitude Test have increased over the past decade, they continue to lag behind those of whites. Of the 1.05 million high-school seniors who took the test in 1985, just over 70,000--9 percent--were black, and of those, 73 percent scored below 400 on the verbal section and 64 percent scored below 400 in mathematics. By contrast, among whites, only 31 percent scored below 400 on the verbal portion and 22 percent had math scores below that level.
- Despite "dramatic" improvements in high-school graduation rates among minority students, minority-group members are far less likely than whites to have a college education. In 1986, 20.1 percent of whites over 25 had completed four years of college; the rate for blacks was 10.9 percent, and for Hispanics, 8.4 percent.
'Passport to Opportunity'
The report notes that the decline in college participation is a particularly serious problem for minorities, since a college degree is increasingly "the passport to greater opportunity and achievement." But more important, it states, the decline is harmful to the nation as a whole, since society relies on college-trained citizens to become taxpayers and leaders.
"A decline in educational attainment by any substantial population group is cause for deep concern--especially at a time when technological advances and global competition put a premium on trained intelligence, advanced skills, and a high degree of adaptability," it says.
Reversing the trend in the minority college-going rate will require a concerted effort at all levels of education, the report says.
"The aptitude for higher education and the ability to succeed in college and graduate school do not suddenly materialize at age 18," it notes.
The report urges educators at all levels to "recognize their interdependence," and to work together to improve the precollegiate training of minority students.
In addition, it recommends that:
- Colleges renew and strengthen efforts to recruit and retain minority students and faculty members;
- National leaders include additional federal investment in programs for disadvantaged youths in any package to stimulate economic growth;
- Private and voluntary organizations create new programs for minority advancement, including internships, intervention efforts, remedial education, and enrichment activities; and
- Leaders from historically black colleges and other minority institutions "recognize their importance as role models'' and work toward developing a new generation of leaders.
Vol. 7, Issue 36, Page 4