The diversity obsession

In an attempt to increase racial diversity at New York City’s seven specialized high schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio established the Discovery program, which offers seats and free summer tutoring to disadvantaged students scoring just below the cut-off score (“Students Admitted to Elite Schools Through Diversity Push Do Well Academically, City Data Show,” The Wall Street Journal, June 4).

Although the intent is laudable, it has discriminated against students with higher scores.  Seven students have filed an appeal arguing that Discovery unfairly denied them seats.  Beyond the legal merits, there is another factor given little attention.  The principle of the flat maximum holds that all students at the top of the curve can succeed.  Trying to differentiate among them is a fool’s game.

No one denies that students who just miss the cut-off score can’t handle the material in these rigorous schools.  Of course they can.  They are all good enough. But by admitting them, officials are denying students with higher scores seats in these coveted schools.  Moreover, New York State law prohibits Discovery from interfering in any manner with the academic level of the sought-after schools.

Diversity is a worthy goal, but it has its limits.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

2 Replies to “The diversity obsession”

  1. What qualifies a student as being “disadvantaged” for purposes of the Discovery program?

    Seems reasonable to assume that — in many/most cases — a student from a very-low-income family who scores 89 on an admissions test is actually more qualified (has greater potential for outstanding academic achievement) for the academically-advanced school than a student from a high-income family who scores 90 on the same test.

    On the other hand, if “disadvantaged” means “race” or “low-scoring-school-previously-attended”, then there is much less reason to believe that the 89 score signifies greater academic potential than the 90 score.

    In any event, if DeBlasio or other govt officials want to give “disadvantaged” students a better shot at academic achievement, middle school and high school are probably far too late for intervention. By the time these students start kindergarten, they are too far below “grade level” re vocabulary size, cognitive skill development and neural development to have a reasonable shot at academic success, even with a lot of make-up assistance in later grades. The societal intervention — training parents in how to effectively parent and high-quality preschool from the earliest possible age — must occur way before middle school and probably before kindergarten.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: The cut score is arbitrary, but it is the only objective way of determining who is qualified to handle rigorous work. But the truth is that students who just miss the cut score can do the work because of the principle of the flat maximum. Perhaps a flip of the coin would be less controversial.

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