Berdahl Address Focuses on Diversity

Commonwealth Talk Probes Broader Issues for Public Schools

By Chancellor Robert Berdahl

EDITOR'S NOTE: On Jan. 23 at the Commonwealth Club, Chancellor Berdahl delivered his first major address on the issue of affirmative action. Proposition 209 has ushered in a new era in which the state of California will have to achieve equity in educational opportunity without the use of affirmative action. In this speech, Chancellor Berdahl elaborates on what this means for Berkeley and probes the broader issues it raises for the state's public school system. The complete address is reprinted here.

After Proposition 209: Addressing the Fundamental Issues of Educational Inequity

While I am relatively new to California, for many years when spending time in Oregon, I have picked up broadcasts of Commonwealth Club presentations on Oregon Public Radio.

I have been impressed with the serious discussions that the addresses have prompted. I am delighted and truly honored to be here today.

We meet at a time when, once again, the issue of race is central to American discourse. There has probably never been a moment since the founding of the Republic that race has not been a critical and divisive issue confronting us. But for those of us who came of age during the Civil Rights Movement of the '60s, the fact that we remain "two nations, separate and unequal," as the Kerner Commission put it in 1968, is discouraging. In fact, given the changing demographics of America in general and California in particular, we may be in danger of becoming several nations, separate and unequal. Despite the progress that we have made, we still have a long way to go. Both the current commission on race, headed by John Hope Franklin, and the town meetings led by President Clinton have had difficulty in engaging in a meaningful discussion. Virtually everyone who has tried has commented on the difficulty we have discussing the issues of race in our society.

For those of us in universities, especially highly selective public universities, the current status of the dialogue is very difficult. Given my tenure as president of the University of Texas at Austin when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its anti-affirmative action ruling in the Hopwood case, and now as chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley following regents' action and the passage of Proposition 209, it might appear that I have some expertise in dealing with this new environment. I want to assure you that I am not an expert-no one is. All of us are struggling to find our way through this new and politically complicated landscape.

Not very long ago, about the time I became involved in academic administration, universities began to respond to broad social and academic consensus that the nation's colleges and universities must enroll a racially diverse student body. Academics generally realized the essential value of educating students in an environment that provided an opportunity to learn from and with students of very different backgrounds. Americans generally recognized the importance of redeeming the social contract as it applied to minorities who histori-cally had been left out. We worried that demo-

cratic institutions could not succeed in a society stratified by race. Looking back, it is striking that as late as the fall of 1970, nearly 87 percent of college students in the United States were white.

In 1978, in a very complex decision in the Bakke case, in the opinion by Justice Powell, the Supreme Court seemed to recognize

that universities had a compelling interest in building diverse student bodies and that race could therefore be considered as one factor

in the process of admitting students. However controversial, that ruling provided a sucess-

ful means of creating diverse student bodies.

Today, nearly 25 percent of America's college population are minority students. As we transformed America's colleges so also were entry into America's middle class and the representation of women and minorities into the professions transformed. For example, the number of African-American professionals tripled in the 20 years from 1970 to 1990, far exceeding the growth of population.

Berkeley became one of the nation's leaders in achieving both excellence and diversity. In 1980, the entering freshman class was composed of just 12 percent African-American, American Indian, Chicano and Latino students. Sixty-seven percent of that freshman class graduated within six years of entering. In contrast, by fall of 1988, nearly 28 percent of the entering class were students from underrepresented minority groups. The six-year graduation rate of that class was better than 80 percent.

The consideration of race as an admissions factor in building a diverse student body is now no longer possible in public universities in California as a result of Proposition 209. It is this circumstance and its implications for education in California that I would like to address today.

Although I have favored affirmative action as a means of achieving necessary diversity in universities, it is not my intention here to re-argue Proposition 209. For California, that issue has been resolved and our job as educators is to develop a means of recruiting a diverse student body within the mandates of the new law. I want to suggest that the passage of Proposition 209 changes the educational landscape in California in several ways and that we must respond to this new environment.

What we can not do, however, is abandon our goals and allow our campuses to resegregate. That is not an option anywhere, and particularly not in multi-ethnic California.

A Dual Responsibility

What we are doing is building a partnership, a dual responsibility, between California's K-12 schools and our public colleges and universities.

At colleges and universities our responsibility is to re-examine admission policies so that we admit students who we know can excel but who are not easily identified when admission is based simply on grades and test scores. This is especially important for highly selective campuses, such as Berkeley, and for law and medical schools.

More attention must be given to a broader definition of merit-one that uses test scores and GPA, but also weighs opportunities and obstacles in reaching those scores. In addition we must acknowledge in admissions reviews what we know to be true-that factors such as drive and tenacity are especially meaningful for success in college. When we know that an SAT score can be increased by more than 100 points by taking an expensive SAT review course, what does it tell us about merit when comparing students of very different financial means?

At the same time, K-12 schools must respond to fundamental issues of educational inequity in California. If poor and minority students are the most likely to be saddled with unsafe schools and less qualified teachers, how can we ever expect those students to perform equally with more advantaged students? And if, in high schools, it is the Asian and white students who automatically get channeled into rigorous math and science courses while the Hispanic and African-American students in the very same schools are routinely assigned to less demanding or vocational courses, how will these students ever be able to compete for entry into the best colleges and universities?

In fact, I would suggest that the passage of Proposition 209, which banned the use of racial preferences, produces a compelling new basis for the change of education in California.

Broadening Admissions Criteria: How then do we proceed to meet the challenge before us?

At Berkeley we have started by examining how we admit students. The issue has become especially critical for us because of intense competition for admission. For last fall's entering class, we received 27,000 applications. Of those, nearly 12,000 students had a 4.0 or higher grade-point-average.

We would love to take each and every one of these exceptional students and many more equally impressive in other ways. But we can not. We have room for just 3,500 new freshmen each year.

This year, we are changing our admissions process and broadening the range of factors that are reviewed. The 30,000 applicants seeking admission for fall 1998 will receive the most thorough evaluation of their academic and personal achievements of any entering class in our history. In the end, after each application has been read in-depth by at least two admissions professionals, we will offer admission to 8,200 students with the intention of enrolling a freshman class of about 3,500 students.

In evaluating this year's applications, we will use no formulas or fixed weights. Our goal is to select applicants through a process that takes into account a broad range of academic factors including SAT scores, GPA and mastery in college preparatory courses. We will also take into consideration achievement and leadership in non-academic areas. Community service, work experience, indications of character, tenacity and initiative, will play a role as well. Most importantly, evaluators will consider merit and achievement in the context of opportunities and obstacles the applicant has faced and the ways in which he or she has responded.

There has been a great deal of discussion recently about whether colleges should continue to use SAT scores. My view is that SAT tests can play a useful role to provide a needed benchmark. But I think too much weight, too much emphasis and too much credence have been placed in them and I do not believe they should be the deciding criterion for admission. The fact is, SAT scores in themselves are not very predictive of performance in college.

There are some critics who have suggested that our new admissions process is designed as a way around Proposition 209's requirements. Let me say clearly that this is completely and totally untrue. The fact is, we have long recognized that to evaluate fully the likely success of a student we must take into account a wide range of personal characteristics and non-academic achievements. This new process-which, by the way, was in development prior to Proposition 209 coming onto the scene-allows us to be as comprehensive in our evaluations as is possible.

Still, we anticipate that our entering class in fall 1998 will have significantly fewer African-American and Hispanic first-year students than we had in previous years. Some who would in the past have been admitted to Berkeley will go to other California colleges and universities, some will be lost to selective out-of-state universities.

Facing Up to Demographic Realities

This prognosis is worrisome for Berkeley today; unless some dramatic changes take place, it will be catastrophic for California in the future. California will soon become a majority minority state. By the year 2006 there will be nearly as many Hispanic students graduating from high school as white students. Together they will make up more than seven out of 10 high school graduates. Twenty percent will be Asian and 8 percent will be African-Americans.

Yet while this state's minority population is growing, the pool of high school students eligible for UC admission is narrowing. This spring, California's most diverse high school graduating class ever will find 30 percent of Asian students fully eligible for UC admission. But just 13 percent of white graduates, 4 percent of Hispanic and 3 percent of African American students will be eligible.

Given today's reality and the forecast for tomorrow, how are we going to make sure Berkeley and other UC institutions, the premier public university system in the United States, remain a genuine option to an increasingly diverse California population?

Leveling the Playing Field in K-12

Universities in California and elsewhere must be heavily involved in improving the quality of education available to students in the K-12 system. The University of California has begun to do this in a major way.

At Berkeley, through an initiative we call the Berkeley Pledge, campus faculty and staff and more than 400 student tutors are working with 50 schools in four Bay Area school districts.

The Berkeley Pledge is realizing excellent results in the math performance of students in kindergarten through high school in some of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the surrounding districts. Over the next year, we and our school partners will pursue similar results in science, writing and literacy. Through pledge efforts we are providing hundreds of teachers with professional development. In our intensive math tutorials, we place one tutor with no more than two or three children in kindergarten through fifth grades. And each summer, we bring 4,000 students to our campus for a wide range of academic enrichment programs.

The sad fact is, however, that no matter how much universities work to improve the schooling opportunities of disadvantaged students, we will only scratch the surface; the numbers are too large for us to have a broad and sustaining impact. And, important as it is, the improvement of public school education is not the central mission of higher education.

Proposition 209 insists on a level playing field for all. It states, "The state shall not discriminate against or give preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting." To me, this says equal educational opportunities must be provided from the very start of the schooling process, with no differences based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin. We know from an abundance of sources that educational opportunities are not anywhere near equal-not in funding, not in facilities, not in teacher experience and not in access to college preparatory classes. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that our society values some children more than it does others.

Consider, for example, which students are most likely to have teachers providing instruction in areas in which they have no credentials or subject training. They are the children in poor communities and communities with mostly black and Hispanic families. A report by the San Francisco Chronicle found that in the urban Oakland Unified School District with its large population of minority students, as many as 7 percent of the children could be taught by teachers with emergency credentials that require no teaching experience or subject matter mastery. In contrast, in the more affluent, suburban Marin public schools, fewer than 1 percent of the students are taught by a teacher with an emergency credential.

A similar situation exists in regard to advanced placement programs for college-bound students. Affluent urban, suburban and private schools tend to offer these elite courses, while inner city, rural and small schools offer very few or no AP courses. This results in a built-in preference when competing for college admission that favors students from suburban and private schools while disadvantaging students of color, largely, in central cities and those from rural districts.

Further, we know through our own outreach efforts at public schools and through a substantial body of research that the process called "ability grouping" or more commonly, "tracking," has a profound effect within the same school of determining who will go to college. Tracking decisions, in essence, "admit" selected students to college-prep, honors and advance placement courses while they confine others to less demanding classes and vocational programs.

Tracking more than anything else equates to access to knowledge, and that equates to future opportunities. Tracking is a complex subject, and educational researchers differ about whether it is beneficial or harmful to student achievement. The question that concerns me, especially in light of Proposition 209, is the extent to which placement of high school students into college-prep tracks is dictated by racial and ethnic preference.

The Right to Learn

In her book, "The Right to Learn: A Blueprint for Schools that Work," Linda Darling-Hammond, executive director of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, says that within integrated schools, "tracking has created a form of education apartheid."

She notes that researchers have found that even after controlling for test scores, race and socio-economic status play a distinct role in determining assignments to courses and programs.

Darling-Hammond writes: "I have seen these difficulties play out in many contexts over many years. In one desegregated magnet elementary school, for example, I noted that the primary-grade classrooms were distinctly identifiable by race. Although the school was predominantly minority, classes for 'gifted and talented' students were almost entirely white. It was clear even in first grade which students were being prepared for algebra, trigonometry and calculus and which were not."

This is consistent with other studies that show that the greater percentage of minorities in a school, the larger the low-track and vocational programs. The same goes with poor students. They too experience a less rigorous college-preparatory program.

Jeannie Oakes of UCLA and other researchers demonstrate that decisions about which track a child "belongs" in are often made by socially influenced group prejudices rather than an individual's merit.

I know of cases in which the children of minority faculty members at Berkeley were automatically tracked into non-college preparation classes in high school until their parents protested and the children were moved into the advanced track.

Sometimes, even when there is hard data to use in decision making, some groups of kids win out over others, according to a report by the Achievement Council of Los Angeles. It found black and Hispanic and poor students are less likely to be placed in college preparatory tracks even when they meet the testing requirements for these programs.

In one urban Southern California high school district, the council's survey showed that of all of the students who qualified for college-prep mathematics, based on the same standardized test, 100 percent of Asian students and 88 percent of white students were admitted to the college-prep math, but only 51 percent of the African-Americans and 42 percent of the Latino students got in. This differential access to college-prep math courses, despite meeting testing thresholds, suggests to me a clear violation of the intent of Proposition 209. When students don't get access to pipeline courses such as algebra or college-prep math, it reduces or eliminates their option to choose a four-year college.

My point in focusing on tracking and other areas of educational inequity is not to attack K-12 educators, many of whom employ tracking with the best intentions for their students.

Rather, my point is that the process of college admissions does not begin when students apply to college. It is not an exaggeration to say the process of selection of who will go to college begins in the first grade; with each passing year, students denied equal access to challenging classes and ultimately to college-prep courses see their chances of college admission decline.

Unequal access begins with differential allocations of resources to school districts, which advantage some students and disadvantage others. And it begins when students are grouped, ostensibly according to their abilities, but, in fact, consistently according to their race and socio-economic status.

Proposition 209 insists on a level playing field. For those of us involved in higher education, this means that our admissions processes will undergo intense public scrutiny. That is fair and right. But the new law applies to all facets of public education and each should be subjected to the same level of scrutiny.

If Californians-those who supported Proposition 209 and those who did not-would insist that the proposition's demand of equal educational opportunities be enforced throughout the K-12 years for all of its youngsters, the debate over affirmative action in college admissions would disappear. If everyone, regardless of race, has equal schooling opportunities from first grade on, as demanded by Proposition 209, we would be on our way to providing the conditions essential for democracy that we have sought from the start of the Civil Rights movement.

Our actions must demonstrate that we value all of our children equally, regardless of race or socio-economic status. When that happens, the dialogue about race in America will be advanced to a new, more productive level.


Copyright 1998, The Regents of the University of California.
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