No Standard, No Problem
Equity is equality of outcome among racial and ethnic groups. Recently, the pursuit of equity in education, criminal justice, and in the professions has resulted in an impressive string of victories.
In education, equity warriors have been frustrated by a stubborn pattern in SAT and ACT scores. For decades Asians have scored higher than whites, who have scored higher than Hispanics, who have scored higher than blacks. These differences seem impervious to any K-12 education policy tinkering regardless of the policy’s ideological origin. Busing, charters, vouchers, increased spending, and universal testing have all failed to close these uncomfortable gaps.
Finally, in 2020, COVID provided the equity commissars a solution to their SAT/ACT “problem.” Many college bureaucrats who hope to increase the percentage of non-Asian minorities have discarded the SAT/ACT requirements for admission. At first, it was temporary, but then for many, it became permanent. The outcome is freshman classes with demographics that are now deemed more equitable. No standards, no problem. Equity!
It’s not just higher education that’s abandoning objective standards. Selective admission middle and high schools that use a test as part of the admissions process have been targeted by the equity enforcers. Due to admission tests, student bodies at these prestigious selective schools in New York City and Virginia have actually become less white, but not in the way the equity crowd wants; they have apparently become “too Asian.” The “equity” solution: ditch the admission tests in favor of a lottery. This would purge these schools of those equity-thwarting, overachieving Asian students. No standard, no problem. Equity!
The quest for equity also threatens gifted programs across the country. The demographics of these programs frequently aren’t necessarily reflective of a school’s overall student body. For the equity mob, this is an offense that needs rectifying. Since admission standards to gifted programs are in part determined by testing and grades, some of these very programs have been deemed inequitable and have been eliminated. No standards, no problem.
The equity warriors aren’t just focused on the higher end of the achievement curve. Most states require some sort of demonstration of actual learning before students graduate high school. Until recently, in 27 states, high school students had to pass an exit exam; now only 11 require it. The disparate impact these exams have on black and Hispanic students has been cited as a reason.
Other states have a more nuanced graduation requirement which allows students to demonstrate proficiency through “research papers, projects, exhibitions, and other performance assessments.” Oregon had such a flexible requirement until this week when the governor signed a bill suspending that state’s proficiency requirement. The governor’s staff cited the disparate impact this requirement has had on some students of color. Yet another standard removed, even this modest one, in the name of equity.
Criminal justice has also been impacted by equity. Several progressive district attorneys around the country have ceased prosecuting many crimes in the name of equity. In Los Angeles, George Gascón refuses to prosecute “trespassing, disturbing the peace, driving with no license or a suspended license, making criminal threats, drug possession, drinking in public, loitering to commit prostitution and resisting arrest, among others.”
San Francisco D.A. Chesa Boudin refuses to prosecute “crimes such as public camping, offering or soliciting sex, public urination, blocking a sidewalk.” He also prosecutes shoplifting at much lower rates than even his progressive predecessor.
Progressive D.A.s in Chicago, Seattle, New York, and Philadelphia have also refused to prosecute numerous crimes, citing their disparate impacts. These property and nuisance criminal laws are a standard of minimally acceptable behavior, yet even these standards have been discarded in the name of equity.
This isn’t to argue that no laws need to be reconsidered. Across the country, in red and blue states, marijuana laws have been relaxed or discarded with a variety of rationales. Some reforms may be prudent despite their furthering of the equity fad.
Standards are also under siege in many professions. Medical students are required to take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 exam after their first year of medical school. Since the exam was initiated, the group average scores of Asians and whites have been higher than those of Hispanics and blacks. Starting in 2022 the scores will be reported as pass/fail with the hope that non-Asian minorities will “benefit from this change because it reduces the effect of an inequitable exam.”
Similarly, Slate has referred to the 150-plus-year-old institution of the bar exam for attorneys as “the relic of a racist club.” A Washington Post education writer also argued for the bar exam’s abolition, citing (among other reasons) the poor test passage rate of African Americans.
Despite many states suspending the bar last year because of the pandemic, no state has signaled the permanent abolition of their bar exam. Perhaps the financial self-interest of lawyer legislators and state bar association members has prevented the equity zealots from abolishing this standard, at least for now.
Last year in an attempt at upholding the standard of objectivity in promotions, the U.S. Navy banned the inclusion of officers’ photos in files being examined to determine advancement. Now, promotion packages will again use photos “after data suggested minorities are less likely to be selected blindly in some situations by promotion review boards.”
The standard that hiring should be without bias is a recurring hindrance to equity. Perhaps the purest form of merit-based hiring is the blind audition used by orchestras. Since the widespread adoption of judging aspiring classical musicians solely on the quality of their music without seeing the auditioner, America’s orchestras have gone from about six percent female in 1970 to almost half today.
However, under this strict meritocracy, black membership has remained under two percent. Not surprisingly, those demanding equity have targeted the blind audition. The New York Times classical music critic has argued: “To Make Orchestras More Diverse, End Blind Auditions.“
Until the equity tide ebbs, no standard in any sphere is safe. Those who advocate equality of group outcomes over objective standards applied equally to individuals are likely emboldened by their impressive string of standard-killing victories.
Randy Boudreaux is an attorney in New Orleans.
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