By Richard D. Kahlenberg (Click here to view the entire P&R issue)
Chambers, Boger and Tobin have offered an important and constructive proposal, exploiting the competition for selective colleges to promote more equitable K-12 schooling. The authors are right to emphasize high school diversity by both race and class. Racial integration is important for building social cohesion and tolerance, while economic integration is important for promoting academic achievement. And the authors are right to seek “bridge builders.” Higher education needs integration (seeking common ground) as much as diversity (emphasizing difference).
In further defining the proposal, the authors should encourage colleges to set clear parameters of what constitutes a diverse high school (percentage free or reduced lunch, and racial and ethnic makeup). If left ambiguous, upper-middle-class parents may not take the perceived “risk” of sending their child to an economically and racially diverse school. Likewise, more research should explore the extent to which the Texas 10% plan—providing automatic admissions to the Univ. of Texas-Austin for those in the top 10% of every high school class—encouraged more affluent families to relocate. The Texas plan is an important precedent worth studying.
Richard D. Kahlenberg (Kahlenberg@tcf.org), a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, is author of Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race and Democracy (2007).