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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Policy Brief: Unequal Public Schools Makes Affirmative Action Essential for Equal Opportunity


The brief first presents new facts on the extraordinary segregation of Black and Latino students in the state’s public schools. Second, it shows that those groups are doubly segregated by race and poverty at the most educationally unsuccessful schools. These children are, on average, from families with far lower income and wealth and with parents with significantly less education. School is their chance to break the cycle of inequality but they are highly isolated in the state’s weakest schools, with very few having the opportunity to attend the competitive schools which are the most equipped to prepare students for access to a very competitive higher education system. The playing field is highly unequal — so many of the advantages that come to students from more privileged families do not reflect individual skill or merit in winning the race, but a much better starting point within the unequal public schools. Extreme segregation in unequal schools means that Black and Latino students and Native American students have very different opportunities to prepare for college.

Affirmative action policies, now legal in all but nine states and practiced by the great majority of the nation’s selective universities, allow admissions officials to consider a student’s racial background as one of a number of factors in making admissions decisions. 

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