Let’s imagine an academically elite public high school in a big, diverse city. Admission is based solely on how well one does on an entrance examination. No racial or ethnic preferences, no preference for children of alums, no preference for athletes, no guidance counselor recommendations. Just the test score.
We have imagined Stuyvesant High School, the crown jewel of the New York City school system.
In a better world, we wouldn’t care about the racial and ethnic composition of the Stuyvesant student body. That it’s the strongest it can be, in academic terms, would be all that mattered.
Here, for purposes of the world we actually live in, is the breakdown of the entering freshman class at Stuyvesant:
Asian — 613
White — 151
Hispanic — 27
Black — 10
These numbers don’t sit well with Mayor Bill de Blasio. Interestingly, though, his son just graduated from Brooklyn Tech, another elite high school with a similar racial and ethnic balance.
De Blasio proposes to do away with the entrance exam altogether. As Richard Cohen, a liberal columnist for the Washington Post writes, this would destroy a system that “epitomized the American dream and — as [President] Trump might say — made America great.”
Short of abolishing the exam, de Blasio will, for now, set aside 20 percent of slots at Stuyvesant (and other special schools like Brooklyn Tech) for “low income students” who “almost” pass the exam.
Assuming this is a way to admit more Blacks and Hispanics (otherwise, from de Blasio’s perspective, what’s the point?), we’re talking about an increase of up to 160 such students. Add that to the nearly 40 slots actually earned by Blacks and Hispanics, and the student body would approach 25 percent Black/Hispanic
But Blacks and Hispanics comprise approximately 67 percent of New York public school student population. Thus, de Blasio’s set aside won’t satisfy the “diversity” imperative, as leftists like the mayor conceive it. This means it won’t be the end of the discriminatory mischief.
The set aside will, however, substantially dilute the quality of the Stuyvesant student body. For it will take an awfully broad definition of “almost” to find 160 Black and Hispanic students whose score was almost good enough to secure admission. (Indeed, if de Blasio were to grant admission on a color blind basis to “almost made it” students from low income families, Asian representation would likely increase because the children of poor Asian immigrants probably predominate among students from low income families who narrowly miss).
But why should any “almost made its” be admitted based on their skin color or national origin? Put aside the fact that it’s against our national interest in promoting excellence to treat being almost good enough as being good enough. The harsh reality is that each slot filled by an “almost” deprives a more deserving candidate of the opportunity to attend Stuyvesant.
Nor is it the case that the candidates likely to be deprived of admission in the name of increasing racial and ethnic diversity have economic advantages the “almosts” lack. The statistics tell us that most of the applicants who would lose out if the test were eliminated or de-emphasized in the quest for diversity would be be Asian. And many would be the children of poor immigrants.
These immigrants typically sacrifice greatly so their kids can make it to into elite schools like Stuyvesant. They rise early, making sure before they head to work that the homework has been done. Then, they work brutally long hours waiting tables, washing dishes, and cleaning hotel rooms. Often, they put aside money from their scant to have their kids prepped for the Stuyvesant admissions test (one family allocated $5,000 for classes for their three sons out of a yearly household income of just $26,000 — talk about a set aside!).
Meanwhile, the kids push themselves to meet their parents expectations and to pull themselves into the middle class and beyond.
I agree with Cohen:
[The students] and their parents played by the rules and studied hard. Why should they be deprived — on the basis of race or ethnicity — of what they earned?
They shouldn’t be. De Blasio simply wants to dole out privileges and benefits to favored constituencies.
The right way for these constituencies — and for Whites as well — to increase their representation at elite public high schools is for parents to push their kids and for the kids to push themselves. That’s the American way, or at least the American dream.
The dream is still viable. The success of New York’s Asian immigrant families proves it.