Exam schools warrant protection

Meritocracy continues to be attacked by reformers who want to end testing for admission to selective high schools simply because their enrollment does not reflect that of their existence in the overall community (“A Progressive Assault on Selective High Schools,” The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 26). 

The so-called “disparate impact” that the exam’s results have on admission are cited as justification for change.  But the reality is that not all students are equally intelligent or motivated.  As a result, it comes as no surprise that the racial composition of exam schools is what it is.

Only in this country is differentiation in education anathema.  All of our competitors abroad begin to sort out students early in their education.  We can argue that they do so too soon, as in the case of Singapore with its primary school leaving exam, but the results speak for themselves.

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

6 Replies to “Exam schools warrant protection”

  1. Agree that it’s very bad social policy to discriminate on the basis of race/ethnicity in order to make any particular institution’s racial/ethnic make-up reflect that of society generally.

    I’d be a bit more sympathetic to efforts to discriminate on behalf of lower-income people. I’d accept — at least somewhat — the argument that individuals from lower-income families will tend to score slightly below true potential on objective measurements while individuals from higher-income families will tend to score slightly above true potential on objective measurements. So, relying on objective measurements will not maximize achievement of true potential. But, that would still be only a slight affirmative action in favor of lower-income people — like adding a few points to an SAT score before doing the ultimate comparisons.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: If low income is a disadvantage in performing well on these exams, then how to explain the large number of Asian students from low-income families who shine? I maintain that IQ is largely innate.

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    1. Just guessing here, but I bet that upper-income Asian students score higher on standardized tests than lower-income Asian students.

      I disagree re IQ being largely innate. There are just too many — albeit anecdotal — stories re the child of a very-low-SES mother being adopted at birth by a high-SES couple and the child ending up in medical or law school. I’d also cite studies that show, I think, that the older of two siblings usually does better academically than the younger of two siblings + that the oldest and youngest of three siblings usually do better academically than the middle sibling. In other words, where genetics will be — on average — equal, the way parents relate to the kids and the way the kids relate to each other will impact IQ.

      The true test, presumably, would be studies of identical twins separated at birth and raised separately. There are a few such studies, I think. But, the ones that I have heard about did not control the extent to which the adoptive families differed re SES. In other words, if a study showed that identical twins separated at birth and raised separately had similar IQs at age 25, this would not tell us much about nature-vs-nurture without also knowing to what extent the families that raised the twins differed (or were similar) re SES (or re parenting characteristics generally).

      There will be a genetic component to IQ. But, I at least have not seen compelling evidence that the genetic component strongly dominates the environmental component.

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  3. Labor Lawyer: Asians from low-income families consistently outperform other racial groups on standardized tests. If income is the key factor, then how to explain this? I haven’t seen a study that looks at the performance of Asians by socioeconomic alone, but I bet the difference would be slight.

    IQ can be improved by environmental factors, but no matter how enriched the environment, it can do only so much because IQ in the form of “g” is largely – not totally – innate.

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  4. Northern Virginia (where I live) has a very large Asian immigrant population. For years, Asian applicants have been very over-represented in enrollment at the regional magnet STEM high school (while Black and Hispanic applicants have been very under-represented). However, there were also a large number of Asian students at our son’s local (non-magnet) high school who were average students or even horrible students. My sense — obviously based on anecdotal evidence — is that there were many Asian immigrant families who did only an average or even poor job of parenting and that their kids ended up being average or worse students.

    The unique aspect of Asian immigrant families (like Jewish immigrant families of an earlier generation) is that many low-income Asian immigrant families arrived in the US with parenting attitudes/practices that were similar to those of high-SES families notwithstanding that the family was low-income. The kids in these families grew up in relative poverty, but approached school (and life generally) with the attitudes towards academic achievement usually seen in kids from upper-middle-class families. As a result, Asians (like Jews in the 1920s) end up being way over-represented in areas of academic achievement.

    I’d argue that the bottom line here shows nurture is at least as important as nature in determining who ends up at the top of their high school class rank.

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  5. Labor Lawyer: Thanks for this important information. No race is a monolith, and that certainly applies to Asians as well. But on average, Asians tend as a group to outperform all others. Why that is the case is debatable.

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