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Opponents of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision (Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, etc.), a landmark ruling that prohibits the use of racial discrimination in college admissions, are very unhappy. Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said (in part), “… studies and history tell us that colleges and universities will likely see a sudden drop in Black and Hispanic enrollment because of the Court’s ruling.” AG Weiser and many others lay the blame for poor academic performance by minorities at the feet of systemic racism. Are they right, or could some other factor be more responsible for academic outcomes?
The Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) standardized tests annually gauge the progress of Colorado’s public school students. The results are not encouraging.
In Colorado there is a statistical link between race and academics. For example, prior to the pandemic 41% of White students failed to meet or exceed expectations in 4th grade language arts, 56% failed in 4th grade math, and 66% failed in 4th grade social studies. Among Black and Hispanic students, nearly 70% did not meet expectations in 4th or 8th grade language arts, and the number was above 80% in 4th and 8th grade math.
Thanks to the misguided policy of closing schools during the pandemic, the most recent test scores have gotten even worse. To cite but one subject area, in 2022 a significant majority of White students underperformed in 4th, 6th, and 8th grade math, while an astonishing 85% of minority students did not meet grade expectations on those same tests show. Do these results imply that bad outcomes are simply the natural consequence of a bad system?
Some people believe so, but one minority group disrupts that narrative. The academic success of Asian students – a phenomenon that loomed large in the Supreme Court’s recent decision – is an outlier among minorities both in Colorado and nationwide. In Colorado Asian students regularly meet or surpass grade expectations in every subject and outperform their peers. How is it that this group has performed so well? One overlooked explanation concerns family structure.
Nationwide, among blacks over 70% of births were to unmarried mothers in 2021 (according to the National Vital Statistics Reports, Volume 72). For Hispanics, the number was smaller – 53%. Among whites the percentage was less, 28%. Yet among Asian mothers, only 12.6% had a child while unmarried. When we look at the percentage of children living with two married parents, for Blacks that figure is 38%, for Hispanics 61%, for whites 71% – while for Asians 85% of their children resided in homes with two married parents. For each group, the rate of children living in married two-parent families and the rate of births within marriage coincides with academic success. This observation is consistent with the results of longitudinal educational studies so that when it comes to educational ‘cause-and-effect’, evidence suggests that intact family structure is a better predictor of success than race.
If Coloradans really care about “the children”, we must encourage cultural and social institutions to trumpet the virtues of marriage and family. We should support policies that make it easier – not harder – for traditional families to succeed. No one wants to see single parents or their children suffer, but neither should our government create incentives for behavior that is not advantageous to children.
Nearly every political leader in Colorado claims to care about “the children”; those that really care about the children should show it by also caring about “marriage” and “the family”.