For years I've said that if the Ku Klux Klan wanted to sabotage black academic excellence, they couldn't find a tool more effective than the public school system in most major cities. The evidence of that tragedy continues. The latest is contained in a Philadelphia Inquirer story (1/9/97).
Tai Kwan Cureton was a student at Philadelphia's predominantly black Simon Gratz High School. An honor roll student, maintaining a 3.8 (A-) grade point average, Cureton ranked 27th in his 305-student graduating class. He was president of both the student government and student peer mediation service. He did all of this while working more than 30 hours a week at a fast-food restaurant. Tai Kwan Cureton was a good kid, so what's the problem?
Cureton was a member, and captain, of Simon Gratz's renowned track team. Simon Gratz's track team's toughness dates back at least to the early 50s. My high school, Benjamin Franklin, wound up on the losing side in meets with them. Cureton was widely sought after by recruiters with scholarships in hand from top-ranking Division I schools such as Penn State, Pittsburgh and Boston College. That was before he received his Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) scores. For a student to be eligible to participate in freshman athletics at Division I colleges, the NCAA rules require a minimum SAT score of 700 out of a possible 1600. Since a person gets 400 points on the SAT for simply writing his name, a minimum of 700 means the athlete must earn 300 points out of a possible 1200. Not meeting the NCAA requirement, Cureton said, "After I got my test scores back, they stopped recruiting me. This really hurt. It was as if my hard work, good grades and other school activities didn't count for anything."
That's the tragedy. Cureton attended school regularly, did his school work and behaved but his high school grades were fraudulent. He and his parents were misled into believing that Simon Grant's A's and B's were equivalent to those earned elsewhere. He was academically short changed by his school, an outcome he did not deserve and could not have known until SAT time.
The Trial Lawyers for Public Justice has filed a class action suit on his behalf based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 claiming the NCAA requirements to be racially discriminatory. They, along with some education "experts", allege that standardized tests are written from a white middle-class viewpoint and therefore are unfair to blacks. That allegation is nonsense. Blacks score higher on the verbal than the math portion. It's difficult to make a case for cultural bias in math. Moreover, Asians are probably the most culturally distinct group in our country. Yet they score higher than blacks and, for that matter, higher than many whites.
Low black SAT scores are simply messengers. Instead of advocates for blacks killing the messenger, they should focus their attention on the message: the fraudulent education blacks receive in our primary and secondary schools. They should consider suing the Philadelphia School Board for the issuance of fraudulent grades and diplomas. The education establishment will tell us there are many education variables beyond their control such as discipline, violence, broken homes and poverty. But well within their control are the grades and the diplomas they give.
Tai Kwan Cureton attends college but says he longs for racing against the top competition at Division I schools. His story should bring outrage to decent people, not against the NCAA standards, but against an education system that systematically scuttles opportunities for our youths.
Walter E. Williams
January 20, 1997
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