Is the Top 10 Plan Unfair?

Categories: Advocacy Letter

Recipient: 60 Minutes Executive Producer

Jeffrey Fager
Executive Producer
CBS News, 60 Minutes
524 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019

Dear Mr. Fager:

Last Sunday (October 17) 60 Minutes aired the story “Is the Top 10 Plan Unfair?” regarding the state of affirmative action policies in the state of Texas. Unfortunately 60 Minutes asked the wrong question. The right question is “Why do such great educational disparities exist between two public high schools in Texas?” Instead of shedding light on the serious inequalities in the Texas public education system and the yawning achievement gaps it produces, 60 Minutes instead chose the easy way out – a story about how one low-income Latina student with a lower GPA got into the University of Texas while one higher-income White student with a higher GPA did not.

The real story of the Ten Percent Plan is much more about why the predominantly minority and low-income public high school attended by the Latina student has fewer educational resources and challenging courses than the predominantly White and higher-income public school attended by the White student. The story should be about the inequality of funding, curriculum development and resources in these schools and what states can and must do to equalize educational opportunity in K-12.

And, by framing your story as a Latina student versus a White student, you also reinforced the misperception that so-called “percent plans” only benefit racial and ethnic minorities. The reality is that poor Whites who often live in rural communities and whose schools also often lack adequate educational opportunities and resources, also benefit from a program that rewards excellence school by school, rather than statewide. Most troubling of all, your story exploited the Latina student, Laura Torres, by challenging her success and undermining her sense of worth for what she has achieved. What did Leslie Stahl accomplish by making Ms. Torres feel “really bad” about her admission to the University of Texas?

While your program was busy pitting two young women against each other, another important question was left unanswered: How is the Ten Percent Plan really working? In June 2004, Americans for a Fair Chance, a project of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), Equal Justice Society, and Society of American Law Teachers, authored a report entitled “Blend It, Don’t End It,” that recommends that the benefits and lessons of the Ten Percent Plan be woven together with the constitutionally permissible consideration of race in admissions.

As Executive Director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, I am extremely disappointed with the one-sided and unfair portrayal of your story and the failure of your correspondent to address the more important issues.

I am hopeful that in the future, 60 Minutes can and will tell a better and more informed story and, subsequently, take a bold and courageous step to ask what it will take to bring equity to our public schools so that all students get a fair chance.

Sincerely,

Wade Henderson
Executive Director

cc: Lesley Stahl, 60 Minutes Correspondent