study was just released by the Harvard Educational Review on racial bias in the SAT Reasoning
Test, that well-known college entrance exam that so many
educational institutions swear by in the admissions process.
Well, according to the study, not only does the SAT discriminate
against economically disadvantaged students, but it also
results in different scores based on race, even when the
students are of equal academic ability.
This study finds, curiously, that more difficult questions
on the college entrance test favor black students
(yes, favor), while easier questions favor white test takers.
As a whole, however, the exam is skewed towards white students—
not because of their skills or aptitude, but because many
questions reflect cultural expressions that are prevalent
in white society. In other words, and I smell a lawsuit
somewhere, some questions are hurting African-American students.
On the reading section of the SAT, blacks score an average of 429, 99 points below their white
The College Board has reacted to the score disparities based on
income and race by saying hey, society is unfair, but the
test is fair, and the gap is attributable to educational
inequities. But somehow, that explanation just isn’t good
On one level, the Harvard study reinforces what many have
known for quite some time. The SAT has received scrutiny
over the years, and standardized testing as a whole has
its origins in IQ testing and the racist eugenics movement. High-stakes testing has forced
students to learn the test rather than to learn something
valuable. Colleges and universities have over-relied on
these standardized exam scores in the admissions process.
However, a growing number of schools have decided to no
longer require the SAT, and this report is another good
reason for other colleges to follow suit.
Although the SAT is a big problem facing American education
that needs addressing, it is not the only problem. Rather,
it is merely the tip of the iceberg. After all, many young
people are not even in a position to take an SAT test or
go to college. The cradle-to-prison pipeline in poorer
and disproportionately black and brown communities provides
children with a poor excuse for an education in crumbling,
crappy, subpar schools. They are programmed for a life
with few options other than to go behind bars. The communities
that provide the prisoners are predictable: North Philly,
East New York, East L.A., Chicago’s South Side. In Brooklyn,
NY, some blocks in predominantly black neighborhoods are
known as “million-dollar blocks”: the state pays $1 million
or more to imprison residents of that block. At a cost
of $30,000 per prisoner, that’s at least 33 prisoners per
block. In 2003, there were 35 such blocks in Brooklyn,
and even a $5 million block—at least 167 prisoners from
a single city block.
Prisons are a big business, it cannot be denied. And the
majority of the prisoners in the U.S. are people of color.
But sometimes green trumps any other color. The “kids for
cash” scandal in mostly white, rural Luzerne County, PA—in
which judges were paid by prison companies to throw good
kids into jail— shows that any of our children might be
sale, no matter their complexion. Might as well lock them
up and throw away the key, the saying goes, in order to
decrease the surplus population.
Education is regarded as a tool for upward mobility and personal
success. Many jobs that once required only a high school
diploma now require a college degree. And in any case,
many of those jobs are being outsourced or otherwise shipped
offshore to a cheaper labor source. Although college might
not be for everyone, there are relatively few options for
those who wish to pursue training and acquire skills outside
of a college setting.
And for those who do make it to college, many are saddled
from the start with a mortgage-sized debt—due to the exponential
rise in tuition costs, and the cozy deals made over the
years between unscrupulous lending institutions and equally
unscrupulous institutions of higher education.
Meanwhile, to be frank, the Great Recession has cast serious
doubt on the value of education as a tool for success in
capitalist America. Education is important for personal
enrichment and fulfillment, building character and creating
better individuals, to be sure, but there are no jobs.
A generation of young people is graduating with degrees,
doing everything that society told them to do, and yet there
is no work for millions of them. And their $100,000 to
$200,000 in school loans is sticking around like baggage.
Five of them are chasing one job. Extension of their unemployment
benefits is precarious because Congress would rather throw
the money into sinkholes for the military and Wall Street
bankers. This is a lost generation of people who start
their career in chronic, long-term unemployment, unable
to make it out of the gate because they cannot find a job
to get a career off the ground. Now, the black community
never was a stranger to unemployment, due to institutional
racism. And the black unemployment tends to be double that
of whites, in good times and bad. Nevertheless, these days,
with massive layoffs and millions of jobs disappearing,
never to return in this lifetime, far more Americans are
having a “black experience,” if you will, than they would
care to admit.
If we do not act now to solve the education crisis in our
nation, and the related problems of inequality and deprivation,
surely we will all sink together.
BlackCommentator.com Executive Editor, David A. Love, JD is a journalist and human rights
advocate based in Philadelphia, and a contributor to The Huffington
Post, theGrio, The Progressive
Media Project, McClatchy-Tribune News Service, In These Times and Philadelphia Independent Media Center. He also
blogs at davidalove.com, NewsOne, Daily Kos,
Salon. Click here to
contact Mr. Love.