Forty-five percent of black high school students don't earn a diploma, according to Education Week's Quality Counts report.  It doesn't matter who gets into the University of Michigan or who has to settle for Eastern Michigan, writes Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal.  If black students don't graduate from high school (with basic academic skills), they'll fail.

It is remarkable how often the combatants in the debate over college affirmative-action default to the notion that nothing proves one's commitment to "diversity" more than one's willingness to adjust the entry requirements to a Harvard, Yale or Michigan.

. . . This is the real affirmative-action status quo: The Harvards, Princetons, Amhersts, Michigans and Georgetowns fight like dogs over the same small pool of high-achieving black and Hispanic 18-year-olds. Normal middle-class black kids go to normal colleges like everyone else. And the inner-city kids with college aspirations but no decent education become fodder for politicians whose interest above all else is turning the desperation of minority parents into a Democratic vote.

The graduation rates in Quality Counts are lower than the "high school completion" rates you're used to seeing because equivalency certificates, such as the GED, aren't included. More and more people are taking the GED, but it doesn't pay off in the workplace like a high school diploma.

Top of the Class

To avoid racial preferences, the University of Texas admits students who've graduated in the top 10 percent of their class, regardless of academic performance. Here's the cover letter of a resume submitted by a young man who says he graduated third in his class from a Dallas high school.

I was born in Dallas, Texas. rasied by my mother a single parent she enstilled strong vaules in me. I Graudrated at the top of my class from L.G. Pinkston High School

I didn't have a male to teach me how to be man, but in many ways this gave inspreration to go out and set goals for myself and work harder then the next man because I had goals to acoplish

My furture career plans are to graduate with a degree in MIS and work for a large Business firm.

I plan to have family and have God first in my life. Most importantly I plan to have strong tides to the community because community service is very important.

In closeing my goals are simple and reachable, on the other hand nothing is out of my reach with God in my life

If this earnest young man had been held to higher standards, he'd have a decent chance of accomplishing his goals.

Jump Shot

Kevin Johnson, a former Phoenix Suns star, wants to turn his alma mater, Sacramento High School, into a high-performing charter school. According to Daniel Weintraub of the Sacramento Bee, the charter plan submitted by Johnson's foundation is a model of clarity: Using an extended school day, a flexible schedule and summer school, the plan's goal is "to allow students to master key concepts and factual knowledge as well as learn how to apply the material critically and creatively."

Johnson, whose performance as a professional athlete was measured nightly, does not shrink from accountability. He embraces it. The plan describes how students will be held accountable for their academics, their attendance and their behavior. Sac High's last school-improvement plan was studded with exclamation points, shy on accountability and called for empowering the school to "tease out the mighty oak tree encoded within each student." Sounds painful.

Poor Preschoolers in Poor Preschools

Preschools designed for poor kids spend less time on literacy activities than private preschools, a University of Florida study concludes. Children in Head Start, developmental day care and a public school pre-kindergarten class were given less exposure to the alphabet, less instruction in identifying letters and less help learning to write and print than low-income children in two privately funded preschools.

A new national study found children enter Head Start well below average in pre-reading skills, and "experience a significant decline in letter recognition and book knowledge after spending a year in Head Start classes," says Anne McGill-Franzen, who conducted the study. And no wonder.

Teachers at the public pre-kindergarten spent an average of nine minutes a day reading aloud to pupils while those at the Jewish nursery school spent an average of 29 minutes a day doing so. Children spent even less time writing. While children in the two private schools spent an average of 10 and 15 minutes per day writing, printing, scribbling or pretend writing, the public pre-kindergarten kids spent less than one minute a day in these activities.

The Bush administration is trying to focus Head Start on reading readiness. There's a long way to go.

The Ritalin Unconspiracy

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a ploy to turn normally active boys into "zombies," argue some conservatives. Not so, writes Michael Fumento in New Republic. ADHD is real, and the drugs used to treat it help kids lead normal lives.

He quotes columnist Mona Charen, who has an 11-year-old son with the disorder.

"I have two non- ADHD children, so it's not a matter of parenting technique," says Charen. "People without such children have no idea what it's like. I can tell the difference between boyish high spirits and pathological hyperactivity. ... These kids bounce off the walls. Their lives are chaos; their rooms are chaos. And nothing replaces the drugs."

I know someone who tried everything but Ritalin to help her desperately unhappy, bouncing-off-the-walls son. Finally, reluctantly, the parents let him take the drug. He turned into a normal little boy. He was able to learn in a regular classroom; his teacher was able to teach the class. For the first time, other kids wanted to play with him. His exhausted, frustrated parents turned into happier people too.

Ritalin's critics say it's prescribed much more frequently for affluent white children — usually boys — than for low-income minorities. Fumento asks: Who gets the best medical care? Ritalin may be overprescribed for some children and underprescribed for others. Maybe poor, black boys with ADHD aren't getting Ritalin because their wild behavior is seen as culturally normal.


As a 29-year-old white male in the middle of America, I might be a little sheltered in job experience, but I have yet to encounter any employment that did not require some use of math. I’ve been a janitor at a chain discount store and a local school and am now a buyer for a wholesale plumbing company, and I have had to use math skills in both jobs as an every day occurrence. I would like to hear what the Italian girl with mathphobia plans to do when she somehow finds a job and tries to balance her checkbook. I feel bad for her as she will never be able to retire as she is too afraid of math to figure out how to invest and save for it.

— Darren Sippel

Joanne Jacobs used to have a paying job as a Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer. Now she blogs for tips at JoanneJacobs.com while writing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. She's never gotten a dime from Enron.

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