Thursday, January 29, 2009

The race-obsessed University of California

There is a movement afoot to have the University of California’s Board of Regents vote on February 4 to get rid of the SAT II as part of UC’s admissions process. The reason, predictably, is to change the racial makeup of the student body currently being admitted.

And here’s an interesting twist: While designed to increase the number of blacks, getting rid of the SAT II will apparently hurt not only whites but also Asians and Hispanics. State assemblyman Van Tran recently wrote that the proposed move “could diminish opportunities for tens of thousands of UC applicants from minority, immigrant, and disadvantaged families.” Former U.S. Representative Doug Ose agreed, in this op-ed for The Berkeley Daily Planet.

Actually, this twist is maybe not so interesting; it’s becoming old hat. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) recently proposed reinstating racial preferences in its federal highway contracting. And it proposed that, from now on, these preferences would include blacks and exclude not only whites but also Hispanics and some Asians. And if you don’t get a preference when others do, of course, then the fact of the matter is that you are discriminated against.

Tension between blacks and Hispanics in California is not news either. A few years ago, California lawyer Nicolas C. Vaca wrote The Presumed Alliance, the subtitle of which was “The Unspoken Conflict between Latinos and Blacks and What It Means for America.” More recently, New America Media published a survey that highlighted the extent to which there are tensions between Hispanics, Asians, and African Americans.

These inter-minority tensions are not exactly inspiring, but they do point to an obvious solution, which is: As America becomes an increasingly multiracial and multiethnic society, a legal regime that sorts people according to skin color and what country their ancestors came from becomes increasingly untenable. Accordingly, we must embrace without further delay the colorblind ideal rather than a divisive racial spoils system. As a prerequisite to mutual respect, everyone must know that everyone else is being judged by the same standard, without discrimination. And make no mistake about it: Getting rid of selection criteria (like the SAT II) because they don’t give you the racial numbers you want is a form of discrimination.

Suppose the shoe were on the other foot, and the Regents were being urged by whites to stop using a test that was resulting in “too many” blacks being admitted. One hopes that the Regents would simply tell this crowd to get lost.

And, indeed, there is precedent for rejecting such schemes as illegal. The Supreme Court long ago ruled that the infamous “grandfather clauses”—which superficially might appear neutral but were deliberately designed to help whites register to vote at the expense of blacks—were unconstitutional.

The inconvenient truth is that students in some groups (like Asians) are reaching the age of 18 with, on average, better academic credentials than those of students in other groups (like blacks). The reason for this is not that the tests are unfair. Rather, the main reason is that more than 7 in 10 blacks are now born out of wedlock, versus fewer than 2 out of 10 Asians and Pacific Islanders.

As the Educational Testing Service has warned (in a study published in fall 2007, quoting from “the most recent and large-scale synthesis of research on single-parent families in the United States”): “Studies demonstrate quite conclusively that children who live in single-mother families score lower on measures of academic achievement than those in two-parent families.”

Since the tests are perfectly valid, what is unfair—to those who have worked hard and therefore do well on them—is to throw them out because “too many” students of one color have scored high. Harvard, Stanford, and other top schools recognize the value of the SAT II. Harvard’s dean of admissions recently announced that the university’s own internal studies have proven the efficacy of the test in predicting academic success, noting it is a better predictor than high school grades, for instance. Prof. Keith Widaman, who heads UC Davis’s faculty committee on admissions, likewise defended the SAT II in this recent Sacramento Bee article.

Accordingly, the University of California’s Board of Regents must refuse to jerry-rig the undergraduate admissions system to ensure a predetermined, politically correct racial and ethnic mix. Instead, educators ought to figure out what criteria will select students with the most willingness and the greatest ability to do the school’s academic work, and then apply those criteria to all students, without regard to race or ethnicity—and let the chips fall where they may.What’s wrong with that?


Illegitimacy and the Black-White Test-Score Gap

Just about nobody in public life is game to admit the amply documented fact that blacks have ON AVERAGE much lower IQs than whites and Asians. And because it really does measure broad intelligence, IQ is the most powerful predictor of educational success. So people are always trying to find some other explanation for the extraordinary poor performance of blacks in education. The article immediately above nominates the fact that most blacks are born out of wedlock. The post below punctures that polite little fiction

I agree that illegitimacy can affect other areas of life, and almost certainly, if we could restore the black illegitimacy rate to what it was before the welfare state, the black-white gap in academic performance would close some.

However, I don't share your confidence (expressed both here and on the Corner) that closing the illegitimacy-rate gap, in and of itself, will somehow catapult blacks to near-equality academically. This implies that between blacks and whites, differences in illegitimacy explain nearly 100 percent of differences in test scores.

One way to test this idea is to see if the black-white score gap moves in tandem with the black-white illegitimacy gap. On the contrary, illegitimacy rose pretty much continuously between 1940 and the turn of the century, with black illegitimacy always rising faster than white illegitimacy—while the black-white test-score gap either improved or didn't move (depending upon whom you ask).

This situation, in which increased illegitimacy corresponds to steady or even improving test scores, would seem to suggest that other factors are having a large impact on the gap.


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