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Education Opinion

Diversity Data Are Misleading

By Walt Gardner — November 15, 2017 1 min read

The news and opinion sections of the media leave the distinct impression that diversity is the No. 1 goal of public schools. Yes, test scores, graduation rates and other statistics count. But they invariably take a back seat to diversity. That’s why it’s worthwhile taking a closer look at the matter (“Immigrants and Cornell’s Black Student Union,” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 26).

Although the citation above refers strictly to Cornell’s Black Student Union, I submit that it has direct relevance to K-12 public schools. School officials make little attempt to identify the origin of black students when reporting the racial background of their enrollments. If they consistently used the term African-American, that would be far more accurate. But sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t.

When busing began in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the number of black students who appeared at the high school where I taught for 28 years was overwhelming. Not all black students, however, were distant descendants of American slaves. I had several students who had recently immigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria, Ethiopia and Jamaica. They were as different from students with the same skin color as those in any other race. I say this because we tend to think of members of a race as a monolith, when in fact they clearly are not.

My point is that failure to distinguish between blacks born in this country from blacks born abroad results in a distorted picture of reality. For example, the LAUSD for years required teachers to annually submit a racial breakdown of their students. The term used was black, rather than African-American. Teachers were ordered not to ask students what race they were or where they came from. Doing so inflated diversity data submitted to the downtown office, which then proudly publicized the results. But the truth about diversity is more nuanced than what taxpayers have been led to believe.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.