The question has been giving me a headache since I first read about the stunning results of the process that gives New York City students access to its elite public schools. Of the nearly 4,800 students admitted into the specialized schools for 2019, 190 are black, down from 207 black students admitted last year out of just over 5,000 offers. Stuyvesant high school, which is representative, gave 7 offers to black students (out of 895 slots), 33 offers to Hispanic students, 194 offers to white students, and Asian-American students received a whopping 587 offers. Overall, Asian-American students constitute 60% of the student bodies of the eight elite schools.
Students take a single exam that tests their mastery of math and English in order to gains entrance to the academically challenging school. Stuyvesant, which has the highest cutoff score for admission and is thus the most selective of the schools, now has the lowest percentage of black and Hispanic students of any of New York City’s roughly 600 public high schools.
What should the city do about this? Should it do anything?
Mayor de Blasio, good Democrats that he is, has proposed the predictable solution: change the rules (You know, like lowering the voting age to 16, eliminating the Electoral College, packing the Supreme Court—but I digress) to make it easier for black students to be admitted. The problem is that this is a zero sum game, like affirmative action. If a less qualified black or Hispanic student comes in, a better qualified Asian-American student has to go. “These numbers are even more proof that dramatic reform is necessary to open the doors of opportunity at specialized high schools,” de Blasio said. Yes, but reform of what? The test isn’t racially biased. It’s color blind. If elite academic schools don’t admit students according to their academic talents, then they aren’t elite academic schools any more.
Says the Times, “The numbers are a stark reminder that the exam tends to produce specialized schools with classes that do not reflect the school system as a whole.” But why would anyone expect a system based on merit to produce a student body that matches the demographic breakdown? We know that different communities and cultures evolve different strengths and weaknesses. Blaming everything but what appears to be the real cause of these disparities is unfair to all concerned, and guarantees that nothing will change.
Asian American families, despite many beginning with language challenges and other obstacles, obviously are doing something right that enhances academic performance, and doing it better than whites, who are doing whatever it is better than blacks and Hispanics. How do the other communities emulate and duplicate that success?
Such stark racial and ethnic disparities in achievement look bad and feel bad, even if the results are fair and nothing sinister is behind them. Yet as Harvard is about to find out, penalizing superior students because of their race or ethnic background is neither an ethical answer nor a reasonable one.
This problem in New York is a fractal of the nation’s racial dilemmas, and it would be revealing to hear every public official and politician give a serious and substantive answer to what they would recommend. For example, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, with the simple-minded facileness for which she is justly infamous, opined, while ducking a question, “My question is, why isn’t every public school in New York City a Brooklyn Tech-caliber school? Every one should be.”
Ah, yes, every school should be elite, every child should be above average, and everyone should be exactly as able and talented as everyone else.
I still have a headache.
Source: New York Times