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American Meritocracy Under Attack
Check out my new Tablet article about NYC's top public high schools.
You may have read or heard about an article in the New York Times last week, titled “Stuyvesant High School Admitted 762 New Students. Only 7 Are Black.” The article made its rounds on the Twitter discourse, and a tweet of mine about it went viral. I wasn’t surprised by the article’s publication, as the NYT has made these articles a yearly ritual.
The article states that
About 10 percent of offers to New York City’s most elite public high schools went to Black and Latino students this year, education officials announced on Thursday, in a school system where they make up more than two-thirds of the student population overall.
The numbers — which have remained stubbornly low for years — placed a fresh spotlight on racial and ethnic disparities in the nation’s largest school system.
At Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, the most selective of the city’s so-called specialized schools, seven of the 762 offers made went to Black students, down from 11 last year and eight in 2021. Twenty Latino students were offered spots at Stuyvesant, as were 489 Asian students and 158 white students. The rest went to multiracial students and students whose race was unknown.
The article frames these numbers as an act of racial segregation, claiming that
The Adams administration has not made school integration a top priority, quieting the public and political attention on the issue after years of intense fights.
Still, depending on how those efforts play out, school desegregation — which research shows can lead to school improvement — could resurface as a major citywide debate.
I have heard every criticism of NYC’s Specialized High Schools at this point. During the four years I attended Stuyvesant, the mayor at the time, Bill de Blasio, tried to ditch the exam every student has to take to gain admission into the Specialized High Schools. de Blasio made the same points this article is making: that the schools are racist for their admissions numbers, and that the test should be abolished in favor of a system that would admit the top performers from every middle school, which would make the racial numbers at the schools look closer to the city’s demographics.
Especially pernicious is the fact that the anti-test crowd considers the Specialized High Schools’ demographic makeup as racial segregation, a term that conjures up memories of the American South pre-Brown v. Board of Education. According to the anti-test crowd, the fact that so many Asians get in isn’t a celebration of how a minority group of mostly immigrants can succeed in America, but rather a form of oppression for Black and Latino students! Of course, Asians have been considered “White-adjacent” for some time now, and now this framing portrays Asians as helping Whites to oppress Black and Latino students. Asians in NYC have shifted heavily toward the Republican Party over the past few years, and thus Asians will likely be dropped from the “POC” coalition and lumped in with Whites for political purposes.
The “segregation” rhetoric is a naked lie. The test used to admit students into NYC’s Specialized High Schools is a colorblind test of reading comprehension and math. The schools were filled with high-achieving Jewish kids last century, and now the schools are filled with high-achieving Asian kids, mostly from poor immigrant families. Any child can get in as long as they can study hard and pass the test. The DEI crowd disagrees, though, and is actively trying to abolish the meritocratic means so many children of working-class immigrants have benefitted from.
Almost every top public high school in America has switched to a more “holistic” admissions process over the past few years: Lowell in San Francisco, Thomas Jefferson in Virginia, Masterman in Philadelphia, Boston Latin in Boston. Only NYC’s top public high schools have remained untouched, although DEI activists did try hard and are still trying hard to change that.
As I write in my newest piece in Tablet magazine, NYC’s Specialized High Schools are The Last Holdouts of American Meritocracy. ←Click the link to read.
And for more of my thoughts on affirmative action, check out some of my previous essays. Supreme Court is set to rule this month on a case, SFFA v. Harvard, that will likely end race-based affirmative action in American colleges, at least on paper. However, admissions boards will find new ways to discriminate against qualified Asian and White applicants. The fight is definitely not over.