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Apodaca: Admissions policies are not the real problem

June 28, 2013|By Patrice Apodaca

Last week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding (sort of) affirmative action in higher education probably won't register a jot here in California, where race-based preferences were banned by voters in 1996.

But inequality in education remains a burning issue that will ignite our political discourse for a long time to come.

To recap, the high court had agreed to hear a case challenging the University of Texas' admissions policy, which gives some preferential treatment to minority applicants. Many observers expected a majority of the justices to use the case to bar such policies outright.

But in a somewhat surprising move, the court voted 7 to 1 on a more middle-ground approach. The decision essentially upheld the right of institutions of higher learning to consider race as a factor in admissions, but indicated that such policies should be applied sparingly and only when "non-racial" methods of achieving racial diversity had been exhausted.

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A non-racial approach would include a Texas law that guarantees admission to the top 10% of each high school's graduating class, a policy that has opened the door to many minority and disadvantaged students.

We have a similar law in California. Called Eligibility in the Local Context (ELC), it assures admission to at least one University of California campus for students ranking in the top 9% of their high-school class based on their GPAs in UC-approved coursework in the 10th and 11th grades.

The ruling in the Texas case drew criticism from some who saw it as too wishy-washy, and praise by others for its restraint. Either way, it was just vague and narrow enough for both sides of the debate over affirmative action to claim victory.

But a true victory — one in which all children are given full and fair access to a quality education — remains light years away.

Indeed, the fact that the nation's highest court must weigh in on university admissions policies speaks volumes about another kind of diversity in our educational system: The vast inequities that exist in elementary and secondary education. It is that inequality that universities attempt to offset when considering applicants, but theirs is a remedy that comes far too late to help the overwhelming majority of kids in need.

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