'Every Child Can Learn and Excel'

Rod Paige is U.S. Education secretary.

Having been born and raised in the then-segregated delta of Mississippi, l have felt the indignity of a racial double standard enforced by the government. I believe there is a better way to achieve the noble and quintessentially American goal of diversity.

The No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush's signature education reform, proceeds from the assumption that every child can learn and excel. The achievement gap in our schools among whites, blacks and Latinos is real and persistent. By holding states accountable for the achievement of all students and by empowering parents, No Child Left Behind aims to close the achievement gap within 12 years.

Though doing this in our elementary and secondary schools will take time, institutions like the University of Michigan can look to Texas, Florida and California for examples of race-neutral efforts to diversify. Each of these states uses "percentage plans" that guarantee places in state universities to students who graduate at the top of their high school classes.

We owe it to our children to meet the challenges of diversity and achievement head-on rather than to look for shortcuts that divide us by race and betray our principles.

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