Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action = Discrimination Against Asians, NYC Schools Edition

It's very difficult for low-income 13-year-olds to cobble together appealing resumes.


Shayan Sanyal / Flickr

New York City politicians—including Mayor Bill de Blasio—want to change the admissions system for the city's nine highly-selective premiere public high schools, including nationally-renowned Stuyvesant High School. The schools currently use a single exam, the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, to determine admittance. Less than three percent of applicants are admitted to Stuyvesant.

The problem, in the eyes of some, is that black and Latino students are increasingly underrepresented at the elite schools. So are white students. When a test score is the only criteria, it seems that Asian Americans are more likely than other racial groups to gain admission to Stuyvesant.

Is that a problem? A coalition that includes de Blasio and teachers unions says that it is, according to Bloomberg:

"I do not believe a single test should be determinative, particularly for something that is as life-changing for so many young people," de Blasio, who would need to persuade the state Legislature to amend the law, said last week. "We have to determine what combination of measures will be fair."

The mayor would like the schools to consider other factors—such as grades and extracurricular activities—that would theoretically give non-Asians a better chance.

Writing for The New York Post, Dennis Saffran—an attorney and former GOP city council candidate—explains why that's not such a great idea. It's very difficult for low-income 13-year-olds to cobble together appealing resumes, he writes. In fact, moving away from an objective test might further decrease the enrollment of poor black and Latino students, while also hurting Asian enrollment, since kids with wealthy parents are the ones best equipped to build portfolios of volunteer work and extracurricular activities:

A Chinese student like Ting Shi who has to help out in his parents' laundromat is not going on "service" trips to Nicaragua with the children in de Blasio's affluent Park Slope neighborhood. The LDF's suggested admissions criteria — student portfolios, leadership skills and community service — are all subject to privileged parents' ability to buy their children the indicia of impressiveness.

Ironically, eliminating the SHSAT would magnify the role of what progressives call "unconscious bias" — the idea that we have a preference for those who look like us and share our backgrounds. Subjective evaluation measures like interviews and portfolio reviews are much more susceptible to such bias than is an objective examination.

Sure, the decision makers will do their best to admit a few more black and Latino kids (especially those from the same upper-middle-class backgrounds), but the primary beneficiaries will be affluent white students who didn't study hard enough to perform really well on the test but seem more "well-rounded" than those who did. As always, the losers in this top-bottom squeeze will be the lower middle and working classes. Among the applicant pool for the specialized high schools, that means Asians.

As Saffran's critique makes clear, attempting to engineer admissions to produce some politically desirable racial mixture is both dubious and difficult. On the latter point, whose to say that a reformed admissions system won't cause further problems? It could exacerbate the very discrepancies it's attempting to resolve. It could also incidentally result in the admission of unqualified students—something administrators expect to happen if the test is no longer the focus—harming the rigor of the schools.

While I can understand the desire to assist groups that aren't making the cut for selective public schools, it doesn't seem fair—or morally justifiable—to stack the game against Asians seeking admittance merely because other Asians have fared well.

Of course, this is exactly what universities practicing affirmative action have done for years, using ethnicity-based admission systems that grade Asian applicants on a much higher curve. Should students be judged on their own merits or against the expected accomplishments of other people who happen to look like them?

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  1. “While I can understand the desire to assist groups that aren’t making the cut for selective public schools”

    Of course I understand it, and the way to assist them is to get them into good schools which are more suited for their academic capacities, not to get them into schools which are *not* suited for their academic capacities.

    1. If some kind of vocational training would help, by all means let them take that track, and a couple decades later they can compare their career as a landscaper or HVAC technician to the careers of the Grievance Studies graduates who take their orders at Starbucks.

      1. +1 mochafrappalatte

      2. This.

        “Radiologic Imaging Tech” is a 5 trimester program at the local community college. So, roughly a year and a half, maybe two and a half if you get a full on Associates Degree to go with it.

        I was looking for jobs on the website of the university where I work, which includes jobs at the affiliated Health Sciences Center (basicaly, the medical school part of the hospital) and saw the posting “MRI Tech, Office of the Medical Investigator”. (Which is why I looked up the schooling for the gig.) That job is a higher pay grade than my current position (Jr. Unix System Administrator) and pays better. Needless to say, my college degree took rather longer than a year and a half to gather.

    2. Exactly. You’re basically setting kids up for failure. Why we want to waste resources on people who aren’t going to do anything interesting with them is a mystery to me.

      1. Because not to do so would be unfaaaaair!

      2. Because they’ll find that out only later, and won’t even connect it with you.

      3. I think part of the benefit of going to an elite school in our pretentious society is the ability to put the name of that school on your resume from now until all eternity. The actual educational benefits are secondary.

    3. “While I can understand the desire to assist groups that aren’t making the cut for selective public schools”

      I can understand it. I don’t believe for an instant that the (largely( White Upper Class Liberal Twits who are pushing this HAVE such a desire, but I can understand it. I can also understand the desire to rig admissions to the advantage of you children’s’ demographic, and despise it.

  2. Belmont Club has an interesting post up, making the point that the true sorting mechanism between the oppressed and the oppressors isn’t race, national origin, or anything other than money. Anyone with money is an oppressor, anyone without is oppressed. The only real ethnicities are “poor” and “not-poor”.…

    1. It seems the main argument is that money equals access to opportunities.

      Philosophically, I think the world isn’t fair and no law or mandate is going to fix that. The only thing I expect of people is that they take advantage of the opportunities that they have access to. If they don’t, then they’re squandering what they’ve been given – given by nature(talent, intelligence, etc) or their parents(money, networking, etc.).

      1. Right, the world isn’t fair. And it isn’t money that makes it worse, it is irrational government laws and college admission policies as this story points out. Government employment laws and many college admission rules are against Asians and Caucasians. It is unfair, racists, and should be changed. Nothing ever comes from racist government actions. Nothing.

    2. But we got Americans with families that can’t even buy a meal/ Ask a brother who’s been downsized if he’s getting any deal/ Or a white boy bustin ass til they put him in his grave/ He ain’t gotta be a black boy to be livin like a slave/ Rich people have always stayed on top by dividing white people from colored people/ but white people got more in common with colored people then they do with rich people/ we just gotta eliminate them. White people, black people, brown people, yellow people, get rid of ’em all/ All we need is a voluntary, free spirited, open-ended program of procreative racial deconstruction/ Everybody just gotta keep fuckin’ everybody til they’re all the same color.

      1. keep it real homie

  3. I’m very much against using a test to reduce a student to just a number. However, it might just be the best way to be objective.

    I know that some charter schools specialize in certain types of students. One in particular specializes in kids who have been in juvenile detention – the curriculum is much more activity based: sports, team work, anything that doesn’t make students sit still for hours on end. Last I heard, they were getting good results.

    I spent 7-9th grade at a private school. In order to be admitted, I had to take a standardized test and my parents had me IQ tested. So even in 6th grade, I was having to develop a resume to compete for admission into schools. I went to a public school(the magnet school for the county) for 10th through 12th and I had to take another test and go through an interview process for that, too.

    1. Why not just let schools decide what kids to admit and which kids not to based on whatever standards they want to use?

      1. Because racism.

      2. Yeah, that’s where I was going with the charter school thing – schools could specialize in a particular type of student: test takers, fine arts, STEM, personality, learning style, whatever.

        1. Damn straight.

        2. schools could specialize in a particular type of student

          That’s what we already have in NYC. The problem is these particular schools, which are specialized exactly for kids who “sit still for hours on end”, are always heralded as the “best” schools and therefore the grievance industry wants them take kids who they know won’t do well in that environment.

      3. Have you ever met a school administrator? Absolutely the worst people to make such decisions.

        1. It sounds like the people who administer the school and the people who choose who goes there should not be the same people. The people who develop tests and the people who give tests should also be different.

  4. How about abolishing special selective public schools? Aren’t all the usual nostrums about the virtues of public schools (as opposed to, for example, charter schools) directly contradicted by their existence?

    1. Ah, but the Liberal Establishment doesn’t object to elitist schools. They object to elitist schools that the children of Peasants might be able to get into.

    2. And remove the few safe havens for real learning? Yeah, that’s a good plan.

  5. Please, please, Democrats, drive the Asians out of your coalition. And, Asians, take a look at the stuff your party is doing.

    1. Let’s see, work to get your kids the best opportunities possible, and then it’s off the ballot box to elect Democrats who think meritocracy is racist.

      1. Well, Asians are apparently “white” so….

      2. Pretty much the model from where they came. Start up the ladder and saw off every rung below them as they climb.

  6. Loved affirmative action in law school. Great way to control the curve and keep everyone else’s grades a little higher.

    1. Also a great way to increase African American enrollment in top law schools, but to ultimately decrease the number of African Americans graduating with law degrees!


  7. At the most selective public high school in Virginia, the pop is 2/3rds asian.….._diversity

    Some history with soft affirm action that went nowhere. Someone feeling aggrieved filed a complaint with DoEd’s civil rights office that was returned asking for more details.

    1. At the most selective public high school in Virginia, the pop is 2/3rds asian.

      But local progessives still lie and insist that it’s overwhelmingly white.

    2. “Asians now make up 60 percent of enrollment throughout the specialized schools, though they constitute only 15 percent of New York’s public school population.”…..hools.html

      1. And some people just *hate* that fact.

      2. More power to them.

  8. The mayor would like the schools to consider other factors?such as grades and extracurricular activities?that would theoretically give non-Asians a better chance.

    Ohhhh the temptation to make a RACIST! joke here….. I’d better go.

    1. If he takes into consideration 12 years of violin lessons, or 12 years of piano lessons the Asian kid wins again.

  9. Who the fuck cares what HS you went to? Eh, schooling’s a racket anyway.

  10. What does a 12 year old put on their resume? I have a hard time believing anything they did wasn’t forced by their parents to look good.

    1. It’s insane what some of these kids have done. I remember doing scholarship interviews when I was teaching at Xavier, and I couldn’t believe some of the things these 17 and 18 year old kids had done. I would never get into a good school if I were applying today!

  11. The reason for the test results disparity? Simple…PARENTING skills…or lack thereof. That is the simple difference. When the uneducated with no family values are parents, you expect them to raise intelligent kids?

    da Blasio wants to ignore test results and admit by race. Typical liberal politician. More dumbing down of Americans.

    1. “….you expect them to raise intelligent kids?”

      The kids could be intelligent, but it is unlikely they will raise kids with as good grades as kids raised in homes run by two academics.

  12. High school tests are not a good barometer of who is bright or not.

    As much as I like objective criteria for these sorts of things a very poor black kid from a terrible neighborhood with a terrible school who scores not quite as high as a driven Asian kid from a good neighborhood, or a white kid, (not that any white kids are driven), is arguably more intelligent and more likely to succeed than the white or Asian kid. The slightly lower test score is not suggestive of anything other than a crappy school and crappy milieu.

  13. What school you went to, what your grades were, what degree you have….does not spell out what success you will have in life.

    How ethical are you, are you willing to give a bit more than other people, how hard do you work, how kind you are, how pleasant you are to others…these things make for success. Old-fashioned values make for successful people.

    Having parents who force you to do extra stuff and raise money for the homeless in Zaire, and take 12 years of violin lessons, and join the right clubs in high school, means pretty much nothing.

    No one has ever asked me what grades I got in school, or what high school I went to. Or, what clubs I joined (none, by the way).

    1. All the things I said above, and the number one thing that makes for success….luck.

      1. …..luck.

        By that analysis some poor slob that has done nothing all his life has equal likelyhood of being a success in life. Experience should tell you that is not true.

        Luck is for those who are prepared for it.

        1. Luck opens up opportunity that other might not get. But yes you need to be prepared to take advantage of it.

      2. Putting too much reliance on luck is a slippery slope.

    2. Having parents who force you to do extra stuff and raise money for the homeless in Zaire, and take 12 years of violin lessons, and join the right clubs in high school, means pretty much nothing.

      That depends on what you’re trying to measure.

      The Ivy League schools are trying to admit kids who will either add to their endowment with monetary contributions, or who will attain positions of political power.

      As it turns out, both of those things correlate pretty highly to being willing to do absolute bullshit tasks for 12 years in order to build a college application resume.

      They’re selecting for the personality type that is willing to endure that nonsense. Because that personality type is the one that thrives in our post-market, post-rule-of-law cronyist corruption society.

  14. *admission. “Admittance” is as bad as “gifting:” pretentious and wrong.

  15. Equal outcome, not equal opportunity – people! And the only way to make for equal outcome is by comparing equal incomes… wait… what? Asian students are low income as well… well that does put a wrench in things. How about we just choose which races we want more equal than others? Yes, that will do nicely.
    — liberal logistician

  16. The current system for screening applicants to Stuyvesant, Bronx HS of Science, etc., makes affirmative action impossible. All proposed deviations from the present system make affirmative action possible, if only sub rosa. Stuyvesant and the like will become less valuable places. Asians will flock to private schools, and new private schools will emerge. The New York and American economies will not be well served. Suburban high schools will emerge stronger than ever. Home schooling will rise.

    Most public schools are mediocre. A majority of American voters want them that way, or don’t mind the mediocrity. In the past, democracy and mental elitism were not incompatible, but that peaceful coexistence will not survive this century.

  17. Here’s the problem:

    The disparity in service between a standard public high school and one of the exam schools is greater – probably vastly greater – than the disparity in student quality between a kid who got X on the test and a kid who got X-1.

    I am all in favor of using standardized tests to hand out rewards. I was always the standardized test all-time champeen. And I definitely favor test-based admission vs. this affirmative action nonsense.

    But, that being said, it’s a significant problem when the math in my first paragraph is true.

    not to get them into schools which are *not* suited for their academic capacities.

    In this instance I don’t think that’s what’s being done.

    It’s like the state trooper test. On the state trooper test, there’s a score that gets you in (let’s call that score 90 just for this example). If there were 100 guys who got 90 and above, and 1000 guys who got 85-90, letting in some of the guys who got 87 will not materially change the quality composition of the class. The guys who got 89 are not going to magically flunk out of the police academy…because the difference in ability between the guy who got a 90 and the guy who got an 89 is vanishingly small.

    Whatever the score threshold is to get into these exam schools, if you let in a bunch of kids who got one point less than that threshold, I submit that no one would be able to notice. Because getting a top score on the test is actually harder than showing up and doing the work.

  18. Want more Blacks and Latinos in Stuyvesant? Improve the quality of education at their current schools to prepare them better for the admissions test. Or, barring that, provide means-tested preparatory classes. Oh, but that would actually require doing something and couldn’t be gamed by the Upper West Side elite.

  19. Am I alone in assuming that, like coveted Pistol Permits, admissions to the schools would end up being dominated by the well connected of NY?

  20. Start working at home with Google. It’s a great work at home opportunity. Just work for few hours. I earn up to $100 a day. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out.

  21. When states have state wide school vouchers and/or tax credits, private schools will siphon off the Asians and all the oppressed minority groups can go to Bronx Science and Stuyvesant. Libtards can then send their kids these government schools (unionized child abuse centers) to get mugged and drugged.

  22. it’s also blatant racial discrimination as the intent of the changes – i.e., too many Asians is an undesirable outcome and a need to diminish their numbers – is pernicious in and of itself.

  23. if the mayor feels that judging students on one test is unfair, then let them give multiple tests. As long as it is objective and relevant to academic goals, it should be ok.

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