What Comes After Affirmative Action?
New ways to add diversity asthe policy nears its rightful end
Affirmative action's defendersand attackers finally agreeon something: The policy
probably won't be aroundtoo much longer.
The recent decision by the SupremeCourt to revisit the issue clearly puts it inperil. Even if the court ends up retainingthe legality of affirmative action for now,using race as a factor in school admissionswas never seen as a permanentsolution; there are fairer ways to adddiversity.
Current affirmative action planstypically benefit the most advantagedin a group, including those who are alsomembers of a minority most of us wouldlike to be in-the 1 percent.
Large racial disparities, of course,persist everywhere. In New York City,even though over 75 percent of thestudents at the top-ranked public highschools are minorities, there are stilldeeply troubling numbers. Less thanfour percent of the students are blackor Hispanic at Stuyvesant High School,where the black population is a hairover 1 percent. At my alma mater, BronxScience, 10 percent of the students areblack or Hispanic. Compare this to the72 percent of the city's public school studentswho are Hispanic or black, roughlythe same percentage of Asians at the twospecialized schools.
The city Department of Education hasmade only half-hearted attempts to diversifyStuyvesant and Bronx Science andthe numbers have moved in the wrongdirection. The Specialized School Institutedoes recruit "disadvantaged" middleschool students of all races to help thempass the admission test, but the city hasalso expanded the number of specializedschools.
Adding five schools was undoubtedlydone with the best of intentions and hashad mostly positive effects-but it also allowsofficials to downplay the problem atspecialized schools, since the new schoolshave broader diversity. Higher scores areneeded to enroll at the top two schools,but the DOE tries to maintain the fictionit has not set up a two-tier system by notpublicizing the scores. This was madeclear in the emails the agency sent thispaper last year when our reporter MeganBungeroth [then Finnegan] looked into
One fair way to add more diversity atStuyvesant and Bronx Science would beto give the best students at every middleschool an added chance to attend, similarto a state college admission plan in Texas.
Coincidentally, the Supreme Courtis now reviewing a different part of theTexas system. The undisputed part of thelaw grants college admission to the top 10percent of high school graduates in Texas,thus opening doors to the best students inschools with large numbers of minorities.Affirmative action supporters acknowledgethat the non-racial componentof the plan is working, but they argue it isnot as effective as using race. The sameargument is also made when income isused. But if diversity were the only goal,strict quotas would work even better thanaffirmative action.
Fairness can't beignored, whichis why you'd behard-pressed tofind someone whofavors legalizingracial quotas.Although affirmativeaction is going to end sooner orlater, academia, for the most part, is notready to give up. The energy used on thesebattles would be better spent on figuringout what causes racial disparity so it canbe ended.
Michael Roth, president of WesleyanUniversity, wrote on the Huffington Post,
"It would be an enormous step backwardto force our admissions offices to retreatto a homogeneity that stifles creative,broad-based education."He won't have to. There are other pathsto diversity.
Josh Rogers, contributing editor at ManhattanMedia, is a lifelong New Yorker.
Follow him @JoshRogersNYC.
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