School District Decides Asians Aren't Students of Color

The absurdities that result from overreliance on semi-arbitrary race-based categories


One school district in Washington state has evidently decided that Asians no longer qualify as persons of color.

In their latest equity report, administrators at North Thurston Public Schools—which oversees some 16,000 students—lumped Asians in with whites and measured their academic achievements against "students of color," a category that includes "Black, Latinx, Native American, Pacific Islander, and Multi-Racial Students" who have experienced "persistent opportunity gaps."

Most indicators in the report show that the achievement gap between white/Asian students and "students of color" is fairly narrow and improving over time. It would probably be even narrower if Asian students were categorized as "students of color." In fact, some indicators might have even shown white students lagging behind that catch-all minority group. Perhaps Asians were included with whites in order to avoid such an outcome. (The superintendent did not respond to a request for comment.)

What the equity report really highlights is the absurdities that result from overreliance on semi-arbitrary race-based categories. The report also measured "students of poverty"—those who qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches—against non-poverty students, and unsurprisingly found a much more significant achievement gap. Students of poverty perform 28 percent worse on math tests, for instance. That socioeconomic category captures something real and meaningful in a way that the gerrymandered race category does not.

Outside public-school bureaucracies, these kinds of race-based classifications seem less popular than ever. In the 2020 election, California voters decisively rejected Proposition 16, which would have allowed public employees to consider race as a factor in university admissions, employment, contracting, and other decisions. Race-based admissions have been forbidden in the state since 1996, when voters outlawed them via ballot initiative by a margin of 54 percent to 45 percent. Proposition 16, which would have reversed this, lost by an even larger margin, despite receving enthusiastic endorsements from top Democrats in the state.

As The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf notes:

California political and media elites overwhelmingly favored ending race neutrality by passing Prop 16. It was endorsed by Senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein; former Senator Barbara Boxer; at least 30 Democratic members of the U.S. House, including Nancy Pelosi; and Governor Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, Secretary of State Alex Padilla, State Controller Betty Yee, State Treasurer Fiona Ma, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, Speaker of the Assembly Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, and hundreds of other local officials. It was also supported by many of the state's newspapers, including the Los Angeles TimesThe Mercury News, the San Francisco ChronicleThe San Diego Union-TribuneLa Opinión, the East Bay TimesThe Sacramento BeeThe Fresno Bee, and The Modesto Bee. And proponents of Prop 16 raised nearly 20 times more money than its opponents.

California is among the bluest of blue states, and yet voters there have decisively rejected the race-based codifications beloved by progressives. As liberals grapple with an election outcome that was less favorable for Democrats than expected, they should bear these things in mind. Proposition 16 was as close a proxy for cultural woke-ism as one could find on the ballot this year, and it lost badly.