The Radical Egalitarian Assault on the Big Apple
Radical egalitarians are relentless and will not rest until the very idea of “merit” is banished and all the goodies are divided (selectively) according to race/ethnicity. Unfortunately, New York City is the latest battleground in this campaign.
With the NAACP Legal Defense Fund leading the way, all the while cheered on by Mayor Bill De Blasio, their latest target is New York City’s eight academically elite high schools. Here a single highly demanding math, verbal and logical reasoning test (the SHSAT), and nothing else, decides admission. According to the NAACP’s interpretation or Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, SHSAT is discriminatory since blacks and Hispanics receive lower scores and thus are disproportionally rejected by these elite schools. In other words, the NAACP believes that racial equality demands racial/ethnic quotas.
The problem is that Asians disproportionately pass the admissions test. At the prestigious Stuyvesant HS 73% of the student body is Asian. Elsewhere at academically elite schools, Asian enrollments are in the low 60’s’ with blacks at about 1% and Hispanics at 2%, both figures well below their proportion in the city’s population. (White numbers have also slipped but nobody seems to complain). What frustrates the egalitarian tribalists is that merit-based admission is protected by a 1971 state law and reversing it will be politically difficult. In effect, egalitarians demand that thousands of kids from Chinese background be excluded and replaced with lower-scoring blacks and Hispanics. Ironically, there are more New York Asians below the poverty line than Blacks and Hispanics. In fact, a little less than half of the Asian students at Stuyvesant qualify for subsidized or free government-supplied meals.
Egalitarians want to substitute a “holistic” admission review -- grades, multiple measures of “academic potential,” interviews, portfolio assessments (i.e., scrapbooks), proven leadership skill and community service. Other possibilities criteria include “background and experience,” and the “demographic profile of their neighborhoods.” Run the problem through the academic equivalent of sausage-making and rest assured, the numbers would “magically” satisfy every radical egalitarian.
Since winning the anti-merit campaign is still a long shot, let me suggest a cheaper, perfectly legal and quicker route to the egalitarian paradise. Leave the top-rated schools untouched but clone them using an existing City high school facility, a largely cost-free, administratively viable option. Make sure the clone enjoys exactly the same resources of an elite schools -- science labs, computers, recreation facilities, library materials, after-school clubs, class size and a teaching staff identical to faculty in the elite schools in terms of advanced degrees, expertise, and experience.
This clone school (let’s call it “Fair HS”) would now utilize the “holistic” admissions policy and to guarantee inclusiveness, the admission committee should be given free rein and precisely represent the city’s demographic. Fair HS would surely “look like New York” -- 44% white, 25.5% Black, 28.6% Hispanic and 12.7% Asian. Next, require Fair HS to use exactly the same pedagogy as a top “unfair” high school -- identical courses, readings, tests, and assignments and, to keep the playing field level, no extra school-supplied tutoring. Also, carefully document dropout rates and transfers. In other words, it would be as if all these students had been admitted to an elite City school. Then publish yearly comparisons.
Would the academic outcomes at Fair HS resemble those at, say, Bronx High School of Science? Unlikely -- students at Fair HS would likely roughly mirror the mediocre outcomes typical of other City high schools with similar demographic mix. Many students would probably transfer to avoid flunking out.
This is hardly speculation. Recall New York City’s failed experiment with open admissions for its free, public system of higher education. Here, between 1970 and 1976 the City essentially abandoned its already modest admission standards to guarantee all high school students a college education. Critically, entrance into one of the top notch four-year colleges (e.g., Baruch College), now only required an 80 average in the college prep track and graduating in the top half of their class. There was no required SAT. And lower standards performed just as the egalitarians hoped -- the African American and Hispanic enrollment quadrupled.
The academic outcome was, however, a disaster, and the experiment was soon abandoned. Many “beneficiaries” were in over their head and required extensive remediation, and drop-out rates soared. Much of this damage was almost invisible, for example, bored smart students learning little in remedial-like courses or frustrated professors abandoning under-graduate teaching in favor of the CCNY graduate center. Especially relevant for our analysis, subsequent toughing of admission standards has resulted in fewer and fewer Blacks and Hispanics admitted to the city’s best four year colleges.
Clearly, this egalitarian crusade is a destructive strategy to undermine merit in the guise of helping Blacks and Hispanics and, truth be told, these unqualified students are being harmed in the name of overcoming a barrier. Actually, egalitarian cannon fodder is a more accurate description of these youngsters pushed into classes where they do not belong.
Today’s egalitarian episode offers some valuable insights. This crusade is not about helping the poor; it is about stirring the pot of racial/ethnic grievances and punishing hard work. Mayor De Blasio’s argument that kicking out smart, industrious Asians from top public schools will reverse some evil “rich get richer” dynamic is bizarre. Indeed, according to the Mayor, these “rich” Asians, but not Blacks and Hispanics, can afford expensive test preparation programs. A breathtaking lie -- ample free tutoring exists for everyone, and while many Asians attend “cram academies” they scrimp and save to afford them. Perhaps somebody should also tell Mayor De Blasio that you can study at home or the library versus just hanging out. Moral of the story: the pursuit of equality justifies lying.
Second, in the egalitarian cosmology, political power trumps everything else. Why spend hundreds of hours hitting the books to gain admission to Bronx Science? Instead work on one’s video game skills and instead pressure the Department of Justice to sue to gain admittance via a consent decree. The hard-working Asian grinds are the stupid ones -- don’t they know that political clout can overcome diligence?
Imagine that the City’s elite schools adopted a holistic admission policy and admitted dozens of ill-prepared, struggling students who then dropped out? Would this failed social engineering convince egalitarians to admit their mistakes? Probably not -- more likely would be hiring armies of tutors, curriculum specialists to cleanse calculus of bias, counselors and role models, all to help this “under-served” population secure a bogus prestigious degree.
It is clear that the radical egalitarian agenda is to reduce New York City to a small number of very rich taxpayers plus masses of government-dependent very poor. Its anti-middle class recipe is obvious. First, undermine public education by eviscerating educational programs for the gifted, abolish elite public schools and impose racial/ethnic punishment quotas to encourage school violence. Then relax the war on crime to achieve “social justice.” Finally, raise taxes to hire more city employees who will, hopefully, help fix these self-imposed calamities. As the City’s decline in the 60’s and 70’s demonstrated, such measures will surely drive the middle class to the suburbs with that exodus, private sector economic decline is inevitable. Perhaps the radial egalitarian slogan should be “Egalitarians: Destroying America One City at a Time.”