Affirmative Action

Important New Lawsuit Challenges Attempted Racial Balancing at Prominent Selective Virginia Public High School

The case could set an important precedent because it addresses facially neutral attempts at racial balancing, and because the school in question is currently over 70% Asian-American, and new policy seeks to reduce that percentage.

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The Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Fairfax, Virginia.

 

Last week, a group of primarily Asian-American parents filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of new admissions policies at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, in Fairfax, Virginia. The case could end up setting an important precedent:

Fairfax County Public Schools is facing a second lawsuit over changes officials made last year to the admissions process at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, its flagship STEM magnet school.

The suit, filed in federal court Wednesday, alleges the changes are discriminatory against Asian Americans and therefore violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. Some of the plaintiffs are also part of the initial lawsuit.

Thomas Jefferson High, known as TJ, often ranks as the best public high school in the nation — but is also nationally known for struggling to admit Black and Hispanic students, who have comprised single-digit percentages of the student body for decades. By contrast, Asian American students made up 70 percent of the student body in 2019-2020, although Asian families accounted for 30 percent of Fairfax County's population in 2019…

In late December, the board approved a "holistic review" process that invites qualified eighth-graders — those with a grade-point average of at least 3.5 and enrolled in various honors courses — to apply by completing an essay and a "Student Portrait Sheet…"

That overhaul is the focus of the new lawsuit. It was filed by members of the Coalition of TJ, a group formed by parents and school alumni last year to fight the proposed admissions changes…..

The 25-page suit, filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia against Brabrand and the Fairfax school board, charges that the revisions to TJ's admissions process were specifically meant to drive down the number of Asian American students enrolled at the school and cites presentations and comments made by the superintendent and school board members to try to prove that point.

As described in the complaint filed by the plaintiffs, the key to the new admissions system is a system under which the previous admissions test (on which Asian-American applicants tended to score well) is eliminated, and replaced with a "holistic" evaluation system under which there are caps on the number of students who can be admitted from any given middle school in Fairfax County. The latter would have the effect of greatly reducing the number of Asian-American students accepted, because Asian students are disproportionately concentrated in some middle schools, relative to others.

The TJ case could sent important precedents on two major issues: how to deal with cases where racial affirmative action policies are pursued by policies that are facially neutral, and how to address situations where a major goal of the policy is to reduce the number of Asian-American students.

The mere fact the new admissions system would result in fewer Asian-American students does not make the policy unconstitutional. Neither does the possibility that the new policy might reduce the quality of education at TJ overall. Rather, the problem is that extensive evidence indicates that the change in admissions policy is motivated by policymakers' desire to reduce the percentage of Asian-American students, so that the TJ student body will more closely reflect the demographics of the region. The plaintiffs' complaint gives many examples, such as this one:

At the school board work session on October 6, 2020, when the Board voted to eliminate the TJ admissions test, the discussion between the Board and Brabrand make it clear that racial balancing was the goal….

[TJ] Principal Bonitatibus again highlighted the desire for a "student body that more closely aligns with the representation in FCPS" and "Northern Virginia…" Board Member Abrar Omeish stated that a key point was to "make sure there's representation" that "should be proportional to the population numbers" of Fairfax County.

The complaint also details how state and county officials involved in discussions that led to the reforms voiced various negative stereotypes about Asian-American parents and students, including that they put too much emphasis on test preparation, and that having too many of them damages TJ's "culture." In one particularly egregious example, state legislator Mark Keam denounced the "unethical ways" Asian-American parents "push their kids into [TJ]," when those parents are "not even going to stay in America," but instead are "using [TJ] to get into Ivy League schools and then go back to their home country."

If the board's new policy is implemented, the principal effect will be to greatly reduce the percentage of Asian-American students at TJ, while greatly increasing the percentage of whites. The complaint notes that population of Fairfax county is currently about 61% white, 10% Black, 16% Hispanic, and 19% Asian and Pacific Islander (numbers add up to more than 100% because "Hispanic" residents in the survey can be members of any racial group; thus, many are also listed as "black" or "white").

The student body at TJ is currently 73% Asian-American, 1% black, 3.3% Hispanic or Latino, 6% other, and 17.7% white. If, as County school officials indicated, the goal of the new policy is to get a student body that is "proportional" to Fairfax's population demographics, the biggest change would be an increase in the percentage of non-Hispanic whites from the current 17.7% to somewhere between 50 and 60%, though the percentage of blacks and Latinos would also increase. The plaintiffs' analysis estimates that the new admission system would, in fact, result in a student body that is roughly 31% Asian-American, 5% black, 8% Hispanic or Latino, 48% white, and 8% other.

The Supreme Court has long held that seemingly neutral government policies whose real goal is to discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity are presumptively unconstitutional and subject to "strict scrutiny" in much the same way as policies that openly discriminate. Under Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corporation (1977), the leading precedent in this field, once the plaintiffs provide any significant evidence that the policy was motivated by racial or ethnic discrimination, the burden shifts to the government to prove they would have enacted the same policy even in the absence of racial motives. If they cannot do so, the policy is subject to searching strict scrutiny, and is likely to be struck down. In this case, it will be very difficult for Fairfax County to show that they would have adopted the same policy even in the absence of the racial balancing goals that key officials openly said were their main objectives.

Combating this kind of "pretextual discrimination" is essential to enforcing constitutional guarantees against racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination. If courts turn a blind eye to such practices, it would be easy for government officials to target any group they want simply by focusing on some characteristic that correlates with membership in that group.

While there are many such pretextual discrimination rulings in cases involving traditional racial discrimination against minorities, we have not yet had a significant decision in a case where the challenged pretextual policy is an "affirmative action" seeking to promote "diversity" or racial balancing. The TJ case might fill that gap. And it could open the door to challenges to similar pretextually motivated policies, such as the Texas "Top Ten Percent Plan." 

The other big reason why this case might set an important precedent is that it involves a "diversity" or "affirmative action" plan where the principal victims are Asian-Americans. Disproportionate effects on Asian-Americans have come up in other cases, most notably the currently ongoing litigation against Harvard's affirmative action policies. But none of them involve targeting of Asian-Americans as blatant or as large-scale as in this case. And none involve a situation where it is so clear that the primary beneficiaries of the new policy will be whites, even though officials clearly also want to increase the percentage of African-Americans and Hispanics.

For reasons I have expounded on several times previously (e.g. here, here, and here), racial preferences that disadvantage Asian-Americans are at odds with both the compensatory justice and "diversity" rationales for affirmative action:

The Asian-American case… highlights the contradiction between the compensatory justice and diversity rationales for affirmative action in admissions… If the goal of affirmative action is to compensate minority groups who have been victimized by discrimination for the injustices they have suffered, many Asian-American groups deserve not only equal treatment but racial preferences. Chinese and Japanese-Americans, for example, were victimized by extensive state-sponsored discrimination – culminating in the internment of some 100,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II… It's true, of course, that these groups are relatively affluent today. But that fact has little relevance to issues of compensatory justice. If you steal from someone and they later strike it rich, that does not diminish the validity of their claims for compensation….

If, on the other hand, the goal of affirmative action is to promote "diversity" for the sake of ensuring that each ethnic group is represented by a "critical mass" in the student body sufficient to educate other students about their culture, then the lack of affirmative action for Asian-Americans becomes more understandable. Because of their impressive academic credentials, a critical mass of Asian students can be achieved even without affirmative action preferences. However, this conclusion may be overstated. "Asians" are not a monolithic group. Japanese, Chinese, Indians, Filipinos, Vietnamese, and Cambodians all have very different cultures. Indeed, immigrants from one part of India or China often have different cultures and speak different languages from those hailing from other parts of the same nation. Treating them all as an undifferentiated mass of "Asian-Americans" is a bit like saying that Norwegians, Italians, and Bulgarians are basically the same because they are "Europeans." If diversity is really the goal,… administrators should do away with the artificial "Asian-American" category altogether and start considering each group separately. They should do the same for the many groups usually lumped together as "white" or "Hispanic." A university that already has a critical mass of native-born-WASPS might well not have a critical mass of Utah Mormons or Eastern European immigrants.

Defenders of programs intended to reduce the percentage of Asian-American students in elite high schools and universities often point out that these policies do not completely exclude Asians, in the way that Jim Crow-era segregation policies totally excluded blacks from white schools. In the TJ case, the new policy would result in a school where some 30% of the students are Asian-American—which is higher than their percentage of the Fairfax County population.

It is indeed true that the TJ policy and others like it are not as bad as Jim Crow, despite attempts to equate the two by some conservatives. But they still deliberately disadvantage Asian students based on their race. That is a grave injustice even if it is less awful than Jim Crow was.

And while comparisons to Jim Crow are overstated, there is a closer historical parallel to early-twentieth century policies intended to limit the number of Jewish students at elite educational institutions. As in the case of Asian-Americans today, education administrators back then argued that having too many Jews would undermine desirable diversity, and damage the school's "culture." Much like Asian students today, Jewish students in that era were stereotyped as overly focused on grades and test scores, and not interested enough in sports and social activities.

And, as with the TJ policy of using middle school caps and "holistic" policies to keep down the number of Asian students, administrators at Ivy League universities used geographic preferences and  "character" evaluations, as a seemingly neutral proxy for keeping down the number of Jews. These types of policies fell far short of completely excluding Jews from the elite institutions that adopted them. But they did significantly reduce the number of Jewish students who were able to attend them.

Today, almost everyone regards these anti-Jewish policies as a shameful episode in the history of American education. But today's very similar efforts to reduce the number of Asian-American students suggests we haven't learned the lessons of history as well as we should have.

Defenders of affirmative action sometimes argue that Asian-American opponents are being used or exploited by white conservatives. That may well be what some white politicians and activists are trying to do.

But Asian-American concern about racial preference policies that target them long predates most white conservatives' interest in the issue. Some thirty years ago, I attended a public high school with a large Asian-American population. Even back then, racial preferences were a major focus of conversation and concern among my Asian-American classmates applying to elite colleges. The key role of Asian-Americans in the recent defeat of California Proposition 16 (which would have restored racial preferences in education in that state), also cannot easily be ascribed to conservative manipulation. Asian-Americans in that state are overwhelmingly liberal Democrats, and unlikely to take their cues from white conservatives. If there is an opportunity here for conservatives to exploit, it is in large part because of preexisting Asian-American opposition to policies intended to reduce their access to elite educational institutions.

There is much that Virginia policymakers can do to improve educational opportunities for disadvantaged students of all races, without targeting Asian-American students, or engaging in racial preferences of any kind. For example, they could back initiatives to abolish the exclusionary zoning that prices many poorer families out of living in parts of the region with strong school systems.

If instead they choose to promote racial balancing at selective institutions by targeting Asian-American students, they can expect more challenges like this one. Hopefully, the TJ case will set a valuable precedent curbing such practices.

NOTE: My wife, Alison Somin, works for the Pacific Legal Foundation, the public interest law firm representing the plaintiffs in the TJ case. She is also one of the lawyers working on this case, specifically. As the links in the above post demonstrate, I have written about these sorts of issues since long before Alison accepted a position at PLF last year, and my views are much the same as they were before she did so.

UPDATE: For those keeping track, I have also long argued for strong judicial scrutiny of cases where conservatives engage in pretextual discrimination against racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, as in the case of Donald Trump's travel ban targeting residents of Muslim-majority nations.

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  1. I can’t find too much wrong with them changing the program to use non-racial criteria to mix up the student body of a selective high school. It doesn’t seem all that different from the top 10% criteria proposed in Texas to improve or maintain admissions demographics at UT, without using racial criteria.

    I also heartily approve measures that will drive minority groups into the GOP because of ham-handed attempts at “equity”.

    1. “ham-handed attempts at “equity”.

      Yup. Equity just mean that the powerful decide who gets what, equality be dammed.

      1. The test discriminates against children not from an intact patriarchal family.

        If the purpose of the test is to predict educational success, it probably does. Coming from a school, where average performance is top performance, it will not serve the student well to attend that school.

        It is better for the student to attend vocational school. Come out, and make $50000 at age 19. At 30, without any advancement or entrepreneurship, the person will have made $500,000. Meanwhile, the doctor will be $250,000 in debt. The average student will be $750000 ahead of the doctor alumnus of the school, who has completed medical training. He will not be ahead of the scumbag, rent seeking lawyer at the same age.

        That assumes no advancement whatsoever. What is the profit margin on electrifying a skyscraper with the Master Electrician License in Fairfax, VA? Driving through that suburb of the rent seeking capital, they are doing well, with dozens of high cranes. Those rent seeking scumbag lawyers are doing very well there.

        1. “For example, they could back initiatives to abolish the exclusionary zoning that prices many poorer families out of living in parts of the region with strong school systems.”

          Hi, Ilya, we need the home address. We are going to move a bunch of Democrats to your street. Perhaps, you should take some into your home.

          Isn’t your law school in Fairfax, VA? Why not drop the LSAT before destroying the best high school in the nation? Admit all your law students to your classroom after they write a story about the ‘hood in DC?

          1. Hard to believe Jefferson is the best in the nation. My school produced 8 Nobel Laureates in STEM, to Jeff’s 2. Some 12 year kid spent 3 weeks in my calculus class. He was finished, and moved onto MIT. He did not take the test. We did not beat him up.

            Ilya, please, follow this case for us. The Democrat attacks on my school are more vicious than those on Jefferson. I have to figure out how to get standing to counter the attack on my school. Perhaps bogus standing obstructions themselves are unconstitutional. Certainly, the taxpayer should be given standing, even if by statute.

    2. I can’t find too much wrong with them changing the program to use non-racial criteria to mix up the student body of a selective high school.

      Makes sense. For example, they could use socioeconomic criteria, or consider whether applicants from some middle schools were disadvantaged simply by attending poor schools to begin with.

      I generally agree with Ilya here, and find the anti-Asian sentiments reprehensible.

      1. I cannot see any way this policy will fail to be subject to strict scrutiny (and rightfully get struck down). To be honest, I kind of wonder how the case defending this policy even got this far. I mean…A federal district court?

        What happened to the state courts in VA? Do they not have a state constitution that enjoins this kind of policy?

        1. The lawyer on the federal bench supported Harvard in its discrimination against Asians. Biden dropped the similar lawsuit against Yale.

          Asians, keep voting for the Democrat lawyer enemy. You deserve to suffer. Same goes for Jews, women, gays, and Blacks.

      2. The TJ issue is typical of a general thrust in the US to eliminate elite public high schools. I went to such a school. There were no admission criteria except academic survival. Of 600 entering in the 9th grade 150 were graduated. The remainder transferred to less rigorous schools.
        I generally like such a system give anyone a chance and see if they can hack it. Incidentally the course load was only 4 courses per semester in grades 9 & 10 giving determined students a very good chance.

        1. That is pretty cruel, screening by failure and by transfer, rather than by a 3 hour test.

          Don, you must have had pretty good intelligence to survive high school. Your 1L destroyed all that. Shame.

    3. The top 10% criteria is rather different.

      That guaranteed access to the top 10% of each high school to the state university system. But you could take more.

      This instead is a hard cap. No more than these people, even if they meet the specifications.

      1. The question in the Texas program is whether they were actually trying to perpetrate racial discrimination. If not, the courts should stay out.

        1. It’s hard to perpetuate racial discrimination by having an inclusive policy like this.

          1. Wouldn’t it depend on the motive?

            1. The problem is, it’s an inclusive policy, so it’s hard to argue that it’s discriminatory. Let me explain.

              Previously the University of Texas decides University Admissions by grades and SAT scores. Now, it decides university admissions by grades and SAT scores, but ALSO anyone who is in the top 10% of their high school class in Texas is admitted.

              To argue you’re being discriminated against with the new standards, you’d have to argue that you weren’t being admitted under the new standards. But the new standards include the old standards. If you got in under the old system (grades and SATs), you still get in under the new system. If your school had a large number of excellent students, you could still get in, even if you weren’t in the top 10%. It’s “inclusive” (assuming, of course, there isn’t a major change in grading and grades to get in).

              Now compare that to an “exclusive system”, where previously grades and SAT scores are used, but now if you aren’t in the top 10% of your class, you CAN’T get in. There’s no second option for grades and SATs. Now, it’s easier to prove discrimination. You can show that you would’ve gotten in under the old standard, and can’t under the new standard.

              1. I’m not a Texican, I can’t discuss the details of their policy. I noticed the claim in the post that “The TJ case…could open the door to challenges to similar pretextually motivated policies, such as the Texas ‘Top Ten Percent Plan.'”

                If a court (hypothetically) found that plaintiff, who was rejected at Texas, would have gotten a leg up if (s)he’d been a different race, I suppose the remedy is to order the university to consider the plaintiff’s application in a way which strictly excludes race.

                1. Even better – if the court finds that the policy was motivated by race discrimination, and the university can’t prove it would have done it anyway, then people of the “wrong” race should get a shot at a race-neutral evaluation, though without a guarantee of admission.

              2. But if the new system guarantees access to Top 10, that is increasing the number of preferred students as compared to the limited number of seats available. If you would make it under the old system, fine. Everyone is competing with the same rules. But the new system… the Top 10 get to fill the seats first since it is guaranteed to them. Then, the now much smaller number of available seats get awarded to those using grades and SAT scores. In the old system, you may have gotten seat 100 out of 100 based on grades and SAT. But the new system granted seat 1 to a Top 10 now… and you got bumped down because of it to seat 101 of 100… which means you didn’t get accepted.

                Not quite sure how you argue it is necessarily race based, unless grades and SAT where heavily white and Top 10 is now adding lots of non-whites on purpose.

                Just thinking out loud here…

    4. “I can’t find too much wrong with them changing the program to use non-racial criteria to mix up the student body of a selective high school.”

      Yeah, don’t be so gullible. “Holistic” just means “deniable racial discrimination”. You declare you’re going to use vague criteria, which then just magically happen to produce your intended quota.

      1. Just make sure you have the “right people” picking the students. As according to their “Student Portrait Sheet”. Remember to look at the picture of the students.

    5. “use non-racial criteria to mix up the student body of a selective high school.”

      Are you trying to suggest using prima facie non-racial discrimination criteria to establish de facto “racial balance”?

    6. If you offered admission at TJ to the top 10% of every school in Fairfax County, you’d probably still get a class that was 70% Asian.

    7. Hi, Ilya. Go to page 2 for Bar Pass Rates by race.

      The Bar exam needs to be cancelled. It is an instrument of white supremacy.

      It will not make much difference to your future at which school you attended high school. The Bar exam is about the ability to make a living. Yet, it has no reliability, and certainly, no validity statistics. It is a piece of anti-scientific, subjective garbage. Lawyers who pass the Bar exam cannot be shown to provide quality legal services.

  2. The name of the school is enough to verify the white supremisist intent of the board. Thomas Jefferson was a notorious slave holder and white supremisist, not witstanding the obfiscatory nature of some of his writing.

    1. Your (su)premises are suspect.

      1. And the nature of his writing is obfiscatory (sic).

    2. Sorry, Jefferson was a superior person. You are a denier and America hater.

      1. superior person

        Big yikes.

        1. April 29, 1962

          “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone. Someone once said that Thomas Jefferson was a gentleman of 32 who could calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, and dance the minuet. “

          1. You have established he was a learned man, a smart man. But not a superior one.

        2. “superior person

          Big yikes.”

          Oh come on. We hear ad nauseam from progressives about “our betters” in this comments section.

          1. RAK speaks for all progressives now, I guess.

            1. He certainly seems to think he does.

            2. Holding my breath to see you call him out on a “clinger” “betters” or “will be replaced” rant.

            3. “RAK speaks for all progressives now, I guess.”

              Only if you let him. As your side likes to say, silence is complicity.

              1. Just about every liberal on here has pushed back on him, dude.

                Using RAK to justify DaivdBehar’s eugenics crap is pretty bad.

                1. “Just about every liberal on here has pushed back on him”

                  Talk about alternate realities.

                    1. You pushed back on a claim that someone deserved to be shot by saying that it was, “out of the norm, even for him.”

                      The norm, for him, that you appear to be defending, is that progressives are “our betters”.

                    2. …You think that’s defending his norm?

                      That’s quite a read.

                      There are other examples, if you’d care to look.

                      But in general defending a specific call-out of Behar with tu quoque about RAK speaking for all liberals is a pretty telling place for you to go.

        3. Sar. You need to be cancelled. If we were at work, I would try to get you fired.

    3. Nobody apparently got the joke.

  3. “Today, almost everyone regards these anti-Jewish policies as a shameful episode in the history of American education.”

    Really? White Jews, in their capacity as whites, are discriminated against – disproportionately so if it’s still true about their academic success.

    A lot of this post seems to be insisting that “I’m not simply defending whites here!”

    (In this particular case, maybe the whites are helping to pull off the discrimination, given how it might benefit them. But if they stick with liberal principles of equality and support the Asians, it could get them a good precedent against anti-white racism in other jurisdictions).

    “Principal Bonitatibus”

    Google translate says that “boni tatibus” is Latin for “good arrest.”

  4. First of all, the school name requires that the school be immediately closed, so the suit is moot.
    Next, it emphasises STEM, so it is racist and must be closed.
    Then, it is Virginia, so there are no teachers anyway, so it needs to be closed.
    Finally, if not reflecting the society racial proportions is a problem, the NFL and NBA need A LOT of work!

    1. They can talk to the military about relaxing those discriminatory fitness standards.

  5. The obvious solution is to increase the testing criteria to a fuller range of subjects.

    For example, they could introduce a physical education portion. Prospective applicants need to show they can dribble a basketball and do a layup.

    Or they can introduce an eSports portion of the exam.

  6. I greatly benefited from such an exam. With mediocre grades I avoided a high school in a shithole Democrat jurisdiction. I would have had to fight Democrats every day. Instead, I learned about Medieval philosophy in World History, and about the stuff below in 11th grade Statistics.

    Anti-discrimination laws violate the Ninth Amendment. All -isms are folk statistics, mostly true, most of the time. They also change with reality. So people with very dark skins are now stereotyped as high performer African immigrants, and much chased by admissions and by employers waving wads of cash.

    If I were in the defense, I would be filing a cross claim against the publisher of the examination. In addition to its dsicriminatory results, it should be made to produce the following.

    Reliability Statistics: test-retest; inter-rater; split half; internal consistency.

    Validity Statistics: face; content; predictive; concurrent; construct; factorial.

    In the absence of adequate level of such measurements, the test would be a defective product.

    The most validated test in history was struck down by the lawyer. It was being used to include, not to exclude students, from special education help. They should cite this persuasive decision. Supreme Court refused to cert.

    Larry P. v. Riles. 1974. 502 F.2d

  7. Go into the elementary schools, give them asian mascots, and add passages to the history textbooks which quote anti-asian language by various historical figures.

    That should so traumatize the asian students that they won’t be able to focus, their grades will drop, and fewer of them will be able to get into the Thomas Jefferson school.

  8. “But none of them involve targeting of Asian-Americans as blatant or as large-scale as in this case. And none involve a situation where it is so clear that the primary beneficiaries of the new policy will be whites, even though officials clearly also want to increase the percentage of African-Americans and Hispanics.”

    Even if whites were not the primary beneficiaries of the new policy—but rather, some other race was—the doctrine should be the same.

    Race-neutral policies that are proved to have racial purpose—whether that purpose be invidious or ‘benign’ balancing (an empty label—should be subject to strict scrutiny, and struck down.

    It is pathetic the way in which Somin and so many others discuss affirmative action. I wonder if there were some way of threading the needle—calibrating affirmative action so that only whites, not asians, get shafted—Somin and others would start supporting the policy.

    1. Donny,
      The TJ case is not only affirmative action it is the entirely predictable effort to decrease the academic quality of the school.
      The student portrait sheet is the same BS excuse for administrators deciding that Asians don’t fit.

      As I wrote above let anyone in, but make it clear that only 30% will survive

  9. Want to reduce Asian participation?
    Spend the entire year on the Pacific Theater of the last numbered war.

    1. Gulf War 2 has a pacific theatre?

      1. He’s a Brit talking about the Near East. It’s how I choose to interpret it.

  10. Leaving aside whether one supports or opposes reparations for blacks, whether monetary or through some other compensation, it’s specious to compare the wrongs done to their ancestors to those of Asian Americans and claim Asian Americans are in the same boat. Few Asians were forced to come here; the nearly all blacks before the modern era were forced. Blacks were subject to legal discrimination almost everywhere in the nation, while it differed by jurisdiction for Asians. Most importantly, the state wasn’t intent on destroying familial and community ties for Asians, while it certainly did for blacks. While I imagine the great majority of blacks now are defended from former slaves the same is not true of Asian Americans and internment camps.

    1. One would then think that people subject to prior discrimination would welcome a system where they can pass a fair, objective, standardized exam given to everyone, and then move up in the world. Study hard, move up.

      Seems to me, people who are against such a system of standardized exams basically infantilize races, assuming that they are not capable of working hard to learn the answers.

      1. Maybe talk to a black person, just one, before you go off supposing stuff like the meritocracy is real and standardized, and that the playing field is level these days.

        1. Math and computer programming is racist and obviously beyond the comprehension of anyone except Asians. I mean, I have tried for years to keep up and make a living at it, but its obvious now to me that my place in life is doing redneck shit and selling meth. Why bother, am i rite?

        2. “playing field is level these days”

          Why would a subjective view of a single black person outweigh his subjective view?

          “Holistic” methods are no more likely to close the black achievement gap than using tests. If the country is as racist as you clearly think, a subjective process will probably be worse, unless you go to strict quotas, because it will be racists being “holistic”.

          1. Also: it is not going to help who people seem to think it will help. The simple fact is that in science, engineering, and technology, whites are stereotyped as being innumerate. Give a manager hiring for a quantitative job, they will select the one with the Asian sounding name first. It’s also a fact that Asians with PhDs in science make more than whites.

            Racial quotas will end up favoring whites over blacks and everyone else, simply because they are 48% of the population. Nor does it rectify the root cause: human bias and stereotypes.

            If your ability to achieve a good score on a standardized exam with objective answers is a function of the melanin content of your skin, the racists are right. literally.

            Now, I understand that people are born into different circumstances in life, but that is not at argument for eliminating standardized exams. That is an argument for demanding more from teachers, and heaven forbid, also the parents.

          2. ““Holistic” methods are no more likely to close the black achievement gap than using tests.”

            No, but they’ll close the admission gap. Lowering the standards for achievement will close the achievement gap; Once they lay that bar on the ground, all the students will equally clear it.

        3. That sounds like the bigotry of low expectations. I’ll note that we have had two black presidents of the American Physical Society in the past ten years.

          1. Who says I have low expectations? Black excellence does not mean we have or should stop striving for a fair system.

        4. So where are all these black geniuses supposedly discriminated against? I thought the latest wisdom was that meritocracy itself is white supremacy. It’s racist and Eurocentric to think it’s better to be smart, well read, conscientious, punctual, hard working, thrifty, sociable and productive. Idiots with no foresight, work ethic or ability to delay gratification deserve an equal place in society and may even be superior.

      2. where they can pass a fair, objective, standardized exam given to everyone,

        Report to us when someone develops such an exam.

        1. Here you go.
          Fair, Standardized, Objective Test

          Test:

          1. 1+1 = ?
          2. 2*10 = ?
          3. 15 + X = 39, Solve for X.
          4. The radius of the circle is 2. What is the area of the circle (to two decimal points)?
          5. A right triangle has one side = 3 and the other side = 5. What is the length of the hypotenuse?

          A fair, balanced, objective exam. But I’m sure you’ll tell me it’s racially biased for some reason.

          1. But I’m sure you’ll tell me it’s racially biased for some reason.

            Why do you say stupid shit like that?

            My guess is that you’re stupid, but if you have a better explanation I’m glad to listen.

            1. “Why do you say stupid shit like that?”

              Because you make stupid comments like

              “where they can pass a fair, objective, standardized exam given to everyone,
              Report to us when someone develops such an exam.”

              The Math SAT is fair, objective, and standardized, and includes similar questions to the ones I have above. You fail to see that somehow.

          2. It is biased against people with an IQ of 85.

    2. gormadoc,
      I guess you know nothing about who built the railroads in the West in the 19th Century, no nothing about the working conditions and high level of discrimination.
      In any case you’re just making an excuse for an appeal for reparations (to whom exactly?) even though you promised at the outset to leave that behind.

      1. You’re comparing Chinese railroad workers, who were hired at a decent wage, to slaves? And ignoring the fact that Central Pacific only laid some of the roads in the West, while other railroads used native labor? Union Pacific used ex-military and Irish immigrants.

        1. Some places were more reluctant to allow Irish railroad workers to settle there than Chinese workers or former slaves.

        2. Again, you’ve cannot have paid attention to the condition of Chinese workers in the West in the 19th century.
          You make it sound like it was equality city when it was anything but.

    3. “it’s specious to compare the wrongs done to their ancestors to those of Asian Americans and claim Asian Americans are in the same boat.”

      As pointless as it is specious, as nobody is discussing whether or not to admit their ancestors.

    4. Reparations may be the dumbest new thing in very dumb times, if you are for them you are an idiot,

      WTF relevance does the treatment of your ancestors have to do with admissions of kids in school today.

      Jesus what an idiot!

      1. I’d support $3K in reparations to anyone who claimed to be black, even Brett, if they and their parents were born in the US AND If and only if all preference programs (except for those in military or civilian service) were immediately eliminated as a iron-clad condition for receiving Federal funds.

  11. Math and science are racist, we should stop forcing kids to learn objective answers to problems like arithmetic and chemistry.

    I also should point out, the Chinese had the civil service exam before others (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_examination#Han_dynasty). Clearly, caucasions and other races are simply not as evolved as Asians, who had a standardized exam based meritocracy well before other “civilizations” (if you can call papyrus based writing “civilization”.

    I think its better in this instance to lower expectations so that other races have the illusion of a chance at life, rather than force them to study obviously racist topics like chemistry and computer programming. In a few thousand years when other races have caught up evolutionary to the superiority of Asians, we can re-institute the standardized exam.

  12. And while comparisons to Jim Crow are overstated, there is a closer historical parallel to early-twentieth century policies intended to limit the number of Jewish students at elite educational institutions.

    Early-Twentieth century? That may have been when they began, but by mid-century they were still going strong. When my brother applied to college in the late ’60s he and the rest of the school’s top students were advised by the college guidance counselor to divvy up the Ivies and other top colleges among themselves because, in the name of “geographical diversity,” no top college would likely admit more than one student from a non-magnet NYC high school. And by the time I was applying in the ’70s, that advice was no longer given out loud, yet among my 30 or so top-student classmates, all of whom had SAT scores above the median for any Ivy League school, coincidentally exactly one was admitted to Harvard, one to Princeton, and one to Yale. (About half the class attended Columbia or Cornell, which were well known to be “unrestricted.”)

    1. Still true in the 1980s, when I was applying.

  13. Well, Asian Americans are just honorary Whites, so it’s all right to discriminate against them.

    1. We’ll say the same about Hispanics in a decade.

  14. Want a fair, better way to test for and admit better-rounded students to highly competitive schools? Make better-roundedness a testable criterion. Test for better-roundedness.

    Want to improve academic diversity at MIT? Do a double screen. First, set a minimum threshold for technical aptitude, and test for it. Then, to determine admissions, re-test with a rigorous English exam those who pass the first test. To the extent you want testing to determine admissions, rank admissions prospects according to results on the second test only—for MIT, only the English test, as given to proven technically-proficient applicants.

    For Harvard, turn it around. Use a minimum screen test for English, then test for technical aptitude the applicants who get over the English-score bar. Again, rank prospects using only the results of the second test—for Harvard, use only the technical proficiency test, as given to proven English-proficient applicants.

    Maybe that would improve both schools notably.

    For a final wrinkle, set aside a small percentage of admissions for students whose test results show the kind of lopsided aptitude that looks like genius. Maybe give the Graduate Record Exam to rising high schoolers, and see who scores high in the upper 99th percentile. Reserve a few percent of admissions for them, and be prepared after you admit them to help them on stuff outside their strength.

    Another possibility would be to stop trying to force meritocracy, and defer to politics. Meritocracy is a poor fit for democracy. It always will be. To get any good out of meritocracy, you need a majority judged to show less merit to be content with reduced access to places of trust, leadership, honor or reward. But majorities enjoy real political power to overturn systems which disadvantage them. That’s a conundrum which would-be meritocrats never seem to acknowledge.

    1. “Want a fair, better way to test for and admit better-rounded students to highly competitive schools? Make better-roundedness a testable criterion. Test for better-roundedness.”

      Well, that’s what they’re doing, but they don’t want to come right out and say it.

    2. Stephen,
      Interestingly Harvard eliminated the physics GRE for graduate school applicant more than a decade ago. The MIT considered that and voted it down overwhelmingly. “Students expected to be tested for and at MIT.”
      The GRE was not used in 2020 at MIT because of covid related pressures.

    3. Your criticism of meritocracy assumes that all people want to excel at the same thing which requires the same aptitude.

      But given that people have varying aptitudes and that various vocations favor various aptitudes… meritocracy means each vocation is fitted with the best. And if you do not fit one vocation you will fit another.

      Comparative advantage at work… it benefits everyone, even the lesser skilled.

      1. Alas, for meritocracy to work as a social system, you expect a single standard of merit to develop and win favor. History shows that is indeed what happens. Perhaps that explains why figures such as Michael Jordan, OJ Simpson, and Tiger Woods were at such pains to avoid entrapment in a varieties-of-merit ghetto, and reached instead for inclusion in the dominant-class scheme of merit. Apparently, some meritorious classes are more meritorious than others.

        But for argument’s sake, consider also that nothing in your conjecture about varieties of merit protects interests shared by the various members of actual majorities among each variety. Those too will be found less-meritorious, and suffer for it, class-by-class. And of course, we know that less-meritorious individuals abound among some classes identified as less-meritorious. Yet for some reason, less meritorious individuals are seldom discovered among more-meritorious classes. Your conjecture suggests balance where none is to be found.

        Meritocracy is a system to justify discrimination, by rhetorically connecting success to notions of personal virtue. But no legitimate theory positing a method to accomplish that in fact has ever been discovered.

  15. Diversity is useless.

    It’s an excuse. Let’s face it the only time we have this discussion is when some group is not black enough.

    Black students struggle to get in because they struggle with academic proficiency.

    I’ve watched a lot of hockey and although it’s relatively light on the virtue signaling you still have to endure the twice a game promotion of black players who are few.

    I’ve also watched one NBA game. It also had a lot of social justice virtue signaling nauseating actually but no promotion of white players curiously who are also few. Not as rare as black hockey players but definitely not proportional

    Diversity is not embraced in general. It only becomes an issue when something isn’t black enough

  16. You know, for a party that has supposedly changed, the Democrats sure do spend a lot of time obsessing over race and discriminating.

    Racism is racism is racism … STOP

  17. What if all the rest of the schools weren’t substandard? Seems like that’s the subtext to the whole thing.

    Government schools are so bad for so many kids that there’s a desperation to get into one of the schools that isn’t actively destructive.

    1. No kidding: My son is academically gifted, got into a state charter school. And I’m appalled: The workload is lighter than the middle school I attended in the late 1960’s, which was just an average school!

      1. You will note that the leftists have zero interest in making schools any better for Americans. They spend their time trying to divide up access to the institutions they haven’t destroyed yet.

  18. “pretextual discrimination”

    Completely ignoring that the vast majority of Muslim dominated countries, including the largest ones, were not included in the program. Only six out of about 70 or 80 were. And that those countries targeted were very weak in the vetting of those trying to come to the U.S.. And that, yes, we DO have a problem with radicals from the Muslim community blowing up stuff and people here in our country, and other countries.

    But it is always “pretextual” with Somin.

  19. To have true equity, we should just allow everyone, with the exception of Caucasians and Asian-Americans, to select the college degree they want to be awarded, and have it bestowed upon them by one of the top ten universities in a properly segregated ceremony. They could then be given a job in the government, or academia sector and be paid the top amount for someone in that field.

    Caucasians and Asian-Americans could work hard to achieve a 4.0 GPA, in the field assigned to them by someone in the government, be appointed a job in the private sector, and then send 75% of their income to the government.

    Utopia achieved!

  20. Blacks and mestizo Hispanics have a genetically low IQ. That’s why they underperform. It’s very simple.

  21. It’s a public school. It’s reasonable for them to take measures to ensure it benefits a broad swath of the public. As noted it is analogous to the Texas top 10%. But in Texas they allow the top 10 to go anywhere in Texas so there is an opportunity to match yourself to the best school for you. And only top 7%(?) can opt for UT.

    So maybe the politicians are racist but they chose a mechanism that has been effectively used in the past for affirmative action.

  22. I was surprised that the word ‘opportunity’ was only used once in the article, near the end, and used very little in the comments. Diversity for its own sake is worthless. Its only value is to spread educational opportunity to more of society. Accomplishing that doesn’t have to mean restricting access to some racial or ethnic group.

    Unfortunately, the term ‘affirmative action’ has been totally distorted from what it meant when it first came into common usage, around 1970. It then had nothing to do with quotas or inclusion/exclusion. Then it meant that an institution or employer would beat the bushes far and wide and spread the word to potential applicants that it didn’t discriminate and actively wanted applications from all who wished to apply.

    It seems to me that the best solution in this case is to convert more public high schools into schools like TJ, in areas of the state where a broader population of races and ethnicities exist. Then the special schools could be less restrictive in admissions, and more people who *want* to attend such a school could. Opportunities would spread more broadly to races and ethnicities.

    There would still be the situation of students who couldn’t hack it and transfer out. But that’s not such a bad thing; it would force such students to rethink their priorities and goals. If they couldn’t succeed in such a high school, they couldn’t succeed in the top tier of colleges. And, as one person pointed out, perhaps they ought to be thinking about a technical school or a trade apprenticeship.

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