New ways to add diversity as the policy nears its rightful end
Affirmative action’s defenders and attackers finally agree on something: The policy probably won’t be around too much longer.
Last week’s decision by the Supreme Court to revisit the issue clearly puts it in peril. Even if the court ends up retaining the legality of affirmative action for now, using race as a factor in school admissions was never seen as a permanent solution; there are fairer ways to add diversity.
Current affirmative action plans typically benefit the most advantaged in a group, including those who are also members of a minority most of us would like to be in—the 1 percent.
Large racial disparities, of course, persist everywhere. In New York City, even though over 75 percent of the students at the top-ranked public high schools are minorities, there are still deeply troubling numbers. Less than 4 percent of the students are black or Hispanic at Stuyvesant High School, where the black population is a hair over 1 percent. At my alma mater, Bronx Science, 10 percent of the students are black or Hispanic. Compare this to the 72 percent of the city’s public school students who are Hispanic or black, roughly the same percentage of Asians at the two specialized schools.
The city Department of Education has made only half-hearted attempts to diversify Stuyvesant and Bronx Science and the numbers have moved in the wrong direction. The Specialized School Institute does recruit “disadvantaged” middle school students of all races to help them pass the admission test, but the city has also expanded the number of specialized schools.
Adding five schools was undoubtedly done with the best of intentions and has had mostly positive effects—but it also allows officials to downplay the problem at specialized schools, since the new schools have broader diversity. Higher scores are needed to enroll at the top two schools, but the DOE tries to maintain the fiction it has not set up a two-tier system by not publicizing the scores. This was made clear in the emails the agency sent this paper last year when our reporter Megan Bungeroth [then Finnegan] looked into the problem.
One fair way to add more diversity at Stuyvesant and Bronx Science would be to give the best students at every middle school an added chance to attend, similar to a state college admission plan in Texas.
Coincidentally, the Supreme Court is now reviewing a different part of the Texas system. The undisputed part of the law grants college admission to the top 10 percent of high school graduates in Texas, thus opening doors to the best students in schools with large numbers of minorities.
Affirmative action supporters acknowledge that the non-racial component of the plan is working, but they argue it is not as effective as using race. The same argument is also made when income is used. But if diversity were the only goal, strict quotas would work even better than affirmative action. Fairness can’t be ignored, which is why you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who favors legalizing racial quotas.
Although affirmative action is going to end sooner or later, academia, for the most part, is not ready to give up. The energy used on these battles would be better spent on figuring out what causes racial disparity so it can be ended.
Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University, wrote on the Huffington Post, “It would be an enormous step backward to force our admissions offices to retreat to a homogeneity that stifles creative, broad-based education.”
He won’t have to. There are other paths to diversity.
Josh Rogers, contributing editor at Manhattan Media, is a lifelong New Yorker. Follow him @JoshRogersNYC.
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