San Francisco is ground zero for reparation demands. Its Board of Supervisors voiced “enthusiastic support” for a list of proposals, including $5 million for every eligible Black adult and guaranteed annual incomes of at least $97,000 for 250 years. Supervisors were surprised by the pushback to their proposals, claiming that opponents were “unaware that the legacy of slavery and racist policies continues to keep Black Americans on the bottom rungs of health, education, and economic prosperity and overrepresented in prisons and homeless populations.”
One problem with reparations for Black residents is that California did not participate in slavery or Jim Crow. Instead, the discrimination that Black Californians experienced was not much different from what other groups, including Native Americans, Latinos, and Chinese Americans, experienced. Just as importantly, the reparation initiative is, I believe, an attempt to hide the Board of Supervisors’ questionable efforts to improve the academic performance of Black students.
Data analyst Darrell Owens reported the dismal performance of Black students in San Francisco:
In 2021 … 71.5% of Black high school juniors in San Francisco cannot read at a proficient level, compared to 20.3% of Asian students, 22.6% of White students, 32% of Filipino students and 61.8% of Hispanic students. It was bad pre-pandemic as well but it’s gotten a few percentage points worse.
Unfortunately, the Board of Supervisors was more focused on taking down racist statues than figuring out how to lift up Black students. Even worse, they undertook policies of leveling downward. In response to the weak performance of Black students in algebra, they eliminated the ability of all students to take it in eighth grade.
A recently released study found that, after this policy’s implementation, more students in the district took precalculus, with the largest gains for Black students. However, the share of Black and Latino students enrolled in advanced placement (AP) calculus remained unchanged at 5 percent — in contrast to 25 percent and over 40 percent for white and Asian students, respectively. Thus, there was little change in wide racial disparities and little benefit for the weaker-performing Black students. (RELATED: Dear Comrade Angela: History Isn’t Always Black and White)
Indeed, the board continued its focus on those better-performing students in its attempt to bring racial equity to Lowell High School, its flagship school. Terminating merit-based admissions, Lowell used a lottery system for two years, doubling the share of Black and Latino students in its freshman class while significantly reducing the number of Asian students.
Student performance dramatically changed when the lottery replaced merit-based admissions. Of the 620 students in Lowell’s 2021 freshman class, 24.4 percent received at least one D or F grade during the fall semester, compared with 7.9 percent of first-year students in fall 2020 and 7.7 percent in fall 2019. This data suggests that eliminating merit in favor of equity goals leads to a mismatch that adversely affects the performance of Black and Latino students.
The Asian-American community believed that these admission changes were based on anti-Asian bigotry. This perception seemed to be verified by tweets from the school board’s vice president, Alison Collins. Collins accused Asian-Americans of using “white supremacist thinking to assimilate and ‘get ahead.’” In response, San Francisco’s Asian-American community spearheaded the successful effort to recall Collins and two other progressive school board members in a February 2022 election.
30 REASONS TO RECALL THE SF SCHOOL BOARD
19. Commissioner Collins appears biased against Asian Americanshttps://t.co/lX2Q0IhFyw pic.twitter.com/LyAe6gty13
— SF Guardians (We recalled the school board) (@sfguardians) March 19, 2021
Most troubling, the weak performance of Black students in San Francisco is not an outlier. The Brookings Institution documented in 2017 that, nationally, only 7 percent of Black students scored at least a 600 on the math section of the SAT. In 2020, Michigan required all students to take the SAT, and only 16 percent of Black students scored at least a 1000, which is widely considered the minimum score necessary to perform well in college-level courses.
Why there are so many weakly performing Black students is complicated, but part of the solution lies in improving Black parenting and Black students’ efforts. We should directly aid young mothers through visiting nurses and Parents as Teachers programs, followed up by charter schools that aid in the parenting of young children. In addition, Black students should be encouraged to take more initiative, including increased study time, rather than being weighed down with a victimization ideology that causes many to give up rather than fight through the roadblocks they experience.
Unfortunately, liberals believe that these approaches are out of bounds because they smack of blaming the victims. How much easier it is to call out white supremacy and the legacy of slavery than it is to look seriously at the factors that must be changed for more Black Americans to be successful. How much easier it is to promote reparation initiatives than it is to do the hard work of improving the academic performance of Black students.
Robert Cherry is an American Enterprise Institute adjunct fellow and author of The State of the Black Family: Sixty Years of Tragedies and Failures — and New Initiatives Offering Hope (Emancipation Books).
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