GET THE STATE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS ON-LINE Tough, investigative reporting; the wit and good sense of Molly Ivins and Jim Hightower; Political Intelligence; insightful cultural analysis; and much more. Check out Molly Ivins’ special subscription offer, too! www.texasobserver.org Subscribe on-line or call The Texas Observer at 800-939-6620 scores of 12001290. And 93% of top ten percenters are returning their sophomore’ year, compared to 87% of non-top ten percent students. The plan does have its critics. It doesn’t help minority students at highperforming suburban schools, nor does it help bright students who are not in the top ten percent because of poor grades freshman year, for -example, or because they have to work afterschool jobs to support their families. Parents of students who are not in the top ten percent at elite high schools complain that the plan gives an advantageto students at low-performing high schools. “In’ their minds, that’s unfair:’ says Dr. Bruce Walker, UT’s Director of Admissions. “My response is that students do not design the public school system in Texas. They did not choose where to live. We should not punish students for that. If, in the competition they were in, they worked hard to get in the top ten percent, they should be rewarded.” Some also have the perception, says Walker, that a student has to be in the top ten percent to be admitted to UT. In fact, students with strong applications who are not in the top ten percent still have a good chance of being admitted. Another fear is that the plan could end up discouraging integration at the high school level. This is an issue at two Austin schools, LBJ and Johnston, which host magnet programs. Magnet programs, which are disproportionately white and Asian American, were placed in under-enrolled minority high schools in order to encourage voluntary integration. But the percent plan has forced the schools and the state to examine whether the two programs truly constitute one school. When the percent plan passed, administrators realized that having one high school rank would eliminate most, if not all, of the neigh-. borhood kids from the top ten percent. So for the first year the plan was in effect, schools ranked students in magnet programs separately from the rest of the student body. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board objected, because schools were qualifying more than ‘ 10% of the entire student body for admis-L sion.The schools responded by sending ten percent of the student body, apportioning a representative number of magnet and neighborhood students. Magnet school students from Johnston High School who had lost their ten percent status sued the district in federal court, and won. Now magnet kids are counted with the rest of the student body. When the court forced LBJ High School to rank all its students together, Norma Hernandez was a student in the top ten percent of the neighborhood school who suddenly lost her automatic admission. “In the last 3 years I was in the top ten percent:’ she said. “And suddenly, as soon as I am about to graduate, they tell me I’m not. I was scared I wasn’t going to be able to get into the school I wanted to go to.” In order to address the needs of students like Hernandez, the school hired Rene Sanchez to help students from the neighborhood program with their college applications. All of LBJ’s top ten percent neighborhood students were accepted into the schools of their choice. Hernandez is enrolling at UT.”Without Rene, I would have procrastinated on my essay,” she says. “But he was like, `Dude, you’ve got to write your essay: So I did it on time, and got accepted.” Sanchez says the experience proves that the top ten percent plan is not as important as knowing what the university is looking for in a college application. “A lot of students in lowincome neighborhoods don’t have family members who went on to college and don’t understand how to write a strong application,” he says. While the magnet schools have been particularly affected by the percent plan, concerns have been raised regarding the general impact of the percent plan at the high school level. Clearly, many students work hard not only to reach the top ten percent, but to ensure that they are prepared for a rigorous college curriculum. But according to Dolores Escamila, the top ten percenter from Travis High, there are other students who boost their GPA with As in courses like defensive driving. “I have always taken advanced classes, so I am not as high in the class as . I would like to be because other students took easier classes,” she says. These concerns reached the state legislature, prompting a debate over whether to implement course requirements for top ten percent students. Rangel, concerned that such a measure would hurt students in districts that don’t offer a college preparatory curriculum, responded by passing a law mandating that all districts must provide a more advanced minimum curriculum beginning in 2004 \(including, among other requirements, geometry, additional science credits and a mandatory Could this be a first step, however small, toward improving the state’s high schools as a whole? In the end, the percent plan has helped diversify higher education, but its very design points to a more deeply embedded problemeducational inequity at the high school level. The plan offers some hard-working students at low-performing schools an opportunity to attend college, and yet the rest are left as poorly educated as ever. Michael May is a writer living in Austin. 716101 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7
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