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Panel Urges Renewed Priority on Minority Education : Reversals in Struggle for Equality Cited

Times Staff Writer

A blue-ribbon commission including former Presidents Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter warned Monday that the nation is “moving backward” in its struggle for racial equality and called for making minority education a renewed national priority.

Twenty years ago, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders headed by then-Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner issued an assessment of a nation divided by race. The civil rights movement’s goal of closing the gap between the races is far from realized today, according to the new panel--the Commission on Minority Participation in Education and American Life--which cited recent studies and statistical trends.

“In the last 10 years, not only have we lost the momentum of earlier minority progress, we have suffered actual reversals in the drive to achieve full equality for minority citizens,” the commission said in its final report, based on a year of research.

Two Leading Groups

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The study was commissioned by the two leading education organizations, the American Council on Education and the Education Commission of the States. In addition to Ford and Carter, the panel was composed of 37 government, education and business leaders.

The report offered a broad strategy for spurring progress toward racial equality, including more aggressive government leadership in minority advancement, stepped-up minority recruitment efforts by colleges and the expansion of private programs to build minority participation. It did not detail specific policies.

One member, Missouri Gov. John Ashcroft, chairman of the Education Commission of the States, refused to endorse the report, saying that its conclusions painted an overly grim picture of minorities’ status in the United States and overlooked “important areas of progress.”

Other commission members conceded that their assessment did not break new ground.

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Attacks ‘Complacency’

“There have been many calls for action,” Dr. Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women, said in a press conference. Attacking a climate of “complacency,” she said that “clearly, we know the problem, but we lack the will” to overcome it.

The commission was headed by Cornell University President Frank H. T. Rhodes. Other members included former Secretaries of State Cyrus R. Vance and Edmund S. Muskie, civil rights activist Coretta Scott King, television newsman Ted Koppel and baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth.

Their report said that, for minorities in America, “the picture of stalled progress is dramatically clear,” with persistent or widening gaps between minorities and whites in employment, education and health.

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Fewer Go to College

For instance, the commission pointed out, the percentage of blacks and Latinos going on to college has dropped in the last decade, even though the pool of minority high school graduates has grown. The percentage of college-bound whites has increased.

The poverty rate for many minorities is three times that of whites, with 47% of black children and 42% of the Latino children in 1985 growing up poor.

Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said that he hopes the commission’s appeal for a joint public and private attack on the problem will help counter what he called the Reagan Administration’s “officially condoned racial intolerance.”

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