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OUR OPINION: Make excellence a 'black thing' Cynthia Tucker - Staff Sunday, November 2, 2003
If I were a high school student with lackluster SATs, I'd take no comfort from those who defend my mediocre academic work accomplishment as an unfortunate characteristic of my race.
I'd be offended by the fact that the HOPE scholarship controversy has become another forum for repeating the ancient wisdom that black students simply don't perform well on standardized tests.
I'd be embarrassed by black lawmakers who threaten to go to court to protect my right to receive HOPE, even though my scores don't measure up to those of most white students.
I think I'd want to prove them wrong. I think I'd give up TV and take as many advanced placement classes and spend as many hours with a math tutor as necessary to raise my SATs. That's what I'd do.
Will black children around the state respond that way? Or will they merely sink back into a fatalism that will guarantee the outcome --- poor test scores --- that has been forecast for them?
It has been nearly 50 years since the Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawed the concept of separate but equal schools. Five decades should have been enough time to erase the effects of outdated textbooks, poorly trained teachers and even low expectations on the academic achievements of black children. Unfortunately, black scholarship --- at least as measured by SATs and ACTs, the two most popular tests for college entrance --- still lags behind that of whites.
The HOPE scholarship debate has brought that unfortunate reality front and center once again. Faced with soaring demand, Georgia officials predict that HOPE funds will start to run short by 2005. To save money, Gov. Sonny Perdue and others have recommended that HOPE eligibility be tied to SATs, rather than grades, which are affected by teachers' subjectivity (and inability to resist parental pressure). Perdue wants to award HOPE scholarships to students who score at least 1000.
But that recommendation has run smack into the achievement gap. Sixty-seven percent of the state's black HOPE scholars score below 1000, while only 32 percent of white HOPE scholars do that poorly.
(Overall, nearly 40 percent the state's HOPE scholars score below 1000 on the SATs --- which is, as much as anything, a stunning indictment of the state's educational system. The perfect score is 1600; most of the nation's competitive colleges and universities require at least 1200. How can students have B averages and score less than 1000?)
Academic researchers used to believe that poverty condemned students to mediocre test scores. Indeed, there is a direct correlation between family income and test scores: the higher the family income, the higher the student is likely to score, generally. But researchers have also found that a white student from a family earning $75,000 a year will still score higher than a black student from a family earning $75,000 a year. What creates that gap?
The late John Ogbu, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, did groundbreaking research that yielded a fascinating, if controversial, conclusion. Studying black students in Shaker Heights, Ohio, long acclaimed for its outstanding public schools, Ogbu concluded, "Black students did not generally work hard. In fact, most appeared to be characterized by low-effort syndrome. . . . The amount of time and effort they invested in academic pursuit was neither adequate nor impressive. . . . The [black] students themselves knew and admitted this."
Georgia has an obligation to improve its pathetic school system, which has suffered from low expectations for generations. In rural school systems, few white students score above 1000 on the SATs, as Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor has noted. It would be quite unfair for the state to suddenly change the rules for HOPE when it has not spent the money nor instituted the standards to teach Georgia's students what they need to know.
But it is black parents who are responsible for insisting that their own children hit the books and take school seriously. Too many black children dismiss scholarship as "a white thing." That has to end. Surely it is more embarrassing to be considered dumb than to be considered "white."
Cynthia Tucker is the editorial page editor. Her column appears Sundays and Wednesdays.
-------------------- You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity. What one person receives without working for another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for that my dear friend is the beginning of the end of any nation. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it. ~ Adrian Rogers
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