Let’s start with a non-racial comparative.
Suppose colleges and universities around the country decided it would be a good idea to increase the number of students who wear blue shirts. So they lowered the admission standards for blue-shirted applicants and got more of them in.
How do you think the blue shirts would do at those colleges and universities? Knowing that they were admitted because of their blue shirts, not their academic or extra-curricular standards, would you expect them to perform as well as students admitted using the conventional standards? Or would you expect them to do less well and drop out at higher rates?
What would you expect students who needed those higher standards to think of the blue-shirts who got in this way? Would they be thought of as highly? Respected as much?
And how would you expect students who met the schools’ full academic standards but just happened to wear blue shirts, to be thought of? Would they have an inherent asterisk attached to them – i.e. “was this student handed a place in the school for performance that would have gotten me a rejection notice”? Would they be resented?
OK. Now, with the above in mind, here are excerpts from – yes, I’m amazed too – Jeremy Ashkenas, Haeyoun Park and Adam Pearce’s front page article in today’s New York Times:
Even after decades of affirmative action, black and Hispanic students are more underrepresented at the nation’s top colleges and universities than they were 35 years ago, according to a New York Times analysis.
The share of black freshmen at elite schools is virtually unchanged since 1980. Black students are just 6 percent of freshmen but 15 percent of college-age Americans…
More Hispanics are attending elite schools, but the increase has not kept up with the huge growth of young Hispanics in the United States, so the gap between students and the college-age population has widened.
The Times analysis includes 100 schools ranging from public flagship universities to the Ivy League. For both blacks and Hispanics, the trend extends back to at least 1980, the earliest year that fall enrollment data was available from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Blacks and Hispanics have gained ground at less selective colleges and universities but not at the highly selective institutions, said Terry Hartle, a senior vice president at the American Council on Education, which represents more than 1,700 colleges and universities.
The courts have ruled that colleges and universities can consider race or ethnicity “as one element in a holistic admissions policy, so it’s something that can be considered, but it’s not a magic bullet,” he said.
The article goes on to point out that there are reasons for Black and Hispanic (I usually use the term “Latino”) under-performance, which relate to the quality of public schools in communities primarily comprised of these groups.:
Elementary and secondary schools with large numbers of black and Hispanic students are less likely to have experienced teachers, advanced courses, high-quality instructional materials and adequate facilities, according to the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
“There’s such a distinct disadvantage to begin with,” said David Hawkins, an executive director at the National Association for College Admission Counseling. “A cascading set of obstacles all seem to contribute to a diminished representation of minority students in highly selective colleges.”
We can debate whether these reasons have merit, and we can talk about other factors, not covered in the article, which might cause them to exist.
But what is not debatable, it seems to me, is that, if public schools are where the problems exist, the answer is improving the public schools; not tossing unqualified, unprepared students into a situation that maximizes their prospects for failure.
And, as alluded to above, the article does not at all touch on certain other factors which cause public schools to be problematic – such as the fact that they often are in high crime areas, and disruptive students are not disciplined effectively – both of which would discourage the best teachers from being on their faculties….and which also make it that much harder for motivated students to achieve their potential.
Little wonder that parents in such areas run, do not walk, to get their children into charter schools when they become available.
The bottom line is that affirmative action – while very well meaning, and intended to right undeniable wrongs which have hurt Black and Latino – especially Black – people for many years, are a nice way of saying “we’ll give you things because of your color, not because you earned them the same way other people do”.
In some situations this does work. In some it doesn’t.
Academically? Read the entire NY Times article, look at the charts it provides, then you tell me.