145 Comments
Mar 4, 2023Liked by Freddie deBoer

It's pretty straightforward. If you're an elite, Ivy institution whose brand is all about mingling with "future leaders" and the ruling class of tomorrow, the rise of poor and working-class Asian children of immigrants who've been absolutely crushing the SATs presents a big problem. If something like half of an incoming class is composed of these students, it makes it difficult for admissions offices to include enough children of the current (largely white) elite, who will go on to be in influential positions in politics, media, finance, etc. in the next generation (and will be donors, influential alumni, etc.). This is not only *not* about admitting more poor black and brown kids, it's about keeping the "merely" bright kids of laundromat and bodega owners from diluting the social capital of the Ivy league "experience." It is deeply classist on an axis that is also, alas, racist. It is also about keeping elite college presidents from having to testify in front of the Supreme Court (reputation management -- like stock price -- being the obsessive goal of any executive board or body).

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It seems that on every metric of education one can measure oneself on, Asians keep coming out on top. Many of these Asians are from poor immigrant families that view higher education as a path to upward mobility. These elite institutions right now are trying to get rid of any quantifiable metric of educational achievement so that when the Supreme Court ends affirmative action next year, these institutions can still try and keep Asians fixed to a quota.

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As usual, an excellent argument. But don't bring this up around teachers or administrators in neighborhood high schools, especially those who self-identify as progressive, which seems to be the vast majority of teachers and administrators in Chicago Public Schools. Even though the point of the argument, as you repeatedly mentioned in this essay, supports a progressive education agenda, they don't want to hear it. And if they do hear it, even after a substantial amount frontloading, be prepared to be labeled--you guessed it--a racist.

In CPS, most neighborhood high schools have implemented "Grading for Equity," which is based on a book of the same title that I would love to see Freddie critique. I've been teaching high school for the past 27 years, and I can't believe just how much snake oil is out there and how much money is being spent on it at the expense of actual instruction.

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It doesn’t have to make sense if your chief objective is virtue signaling.

And it’s even worse than all of this. Many public schools have eliminated advanced courses -- having deemed them “racist” -- that offered students in underperforming schools an opportunity to distinguish themselves in their college applications.

As seems typical, policy changes purportedly enacted to help a certain population do more to hurt them than anything else. Not to mention the backlash they create.

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I have to take issue with the notion that differences in academic achievement necessarily point to racial discrimination in the educational system.

First off, if you're going to take that position, you have to acknowledge that the data indicate a far larger achievement gap on the basis of sex than race. Instead, the fact that men are a rapidly shrinking minority of college graduates doesn't seem to raise any alarm bells at all. Perhaps we won't truly have gender equality until 100% of educational opportunities go to women, or something.

Second, if you take one child from a culture that values educational achievement, and one child from a culture that does not, it requires exactly zero systemic discrimination in the educational system for the first child to do better in school than the second.

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If you want a problem to go away, then one of the ways you can do it is to stop measuring for it.

In manufacturing, if you are having poor yields because your parts are failing a test, you can do a few things:

1. Fix the process, so that the parts stop failing the test

2. Ignore the results, and use the parts anyway. Your production numbers improve, but it looks bad when someone looks back and wonders why the end product continues to have issues.

3. Stop running that test. When the end product fails, refuse to let anyone do a root cause analysis that shows why it failed. Now everyone who built the product looks good, because all the tests passed during the process. When the end product keeps failing, it can be blamed on user error.

I think we have been choosing option 2 for a long time, but now we are slowly moving towards option 3.

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This isn't my issue and I don't know a lot, but it seems clear Asian and East Asian immigrant kids have been getting royally screwed. There were a ton at my high school. They had SAT prep, but not because they were rich, but because their parents and communities banded together to form a cottage industry of affordable tutoring.

I remember my best friend, first-generation Chinese-American, crying when she was rejected from Columbia: she was brilliant and so talented and not at all the cliche of robotic overachiever. I assumed she was rejected because NO ONE ever gets into Columbia, but as an adult, I've met complete idiots who're like, "I went to Columbia!" We had only one girl from the school get into Harvard in like 8 years. I do think affirmative action has a role to play. But doing it at the expense of immigrants is awful.

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Great stuff. I do think you also made a glance at another issue, too many humanities people in journalism who’s eyes glaze over as soon as you start talking numbers.

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Long after I’m dead inequality will not be any better because we as a society are ignoring the elephant in the room which is the breakdown of American Black families. This is not racism as immigrant African families are doing well.

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My question is how long after removing the SAT will it take for the powers that be to recognize this and to then get rid of GPA too.

Letters of recommendation and essays only maybe.

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My impression was that the driving force behind dropping clear metrics like the SAT was a reaction to the impending supreme court decision on affirmative action. The more opaque universities make the admission process, the easier it is for them to maintain some stealth version of affirmative action. So I guess the bigger question is what your opinion is of affirmative action. I'm kind of torn. On one hand it's clearly unfair to the kids who are weeded out because of their ethnicity. On the other hand, it doesn't seem ideal to have an elite at odds with the demographics of the underlying population, especially given how tribal our politics have become.

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Mar 4, 2023·edited Mar 4, 2023Liked by Freddie deBoer

Aside from the other issues, I think this is a good example of a general tendency to attribute more direct causal responsibility (and thus moral responsibility) in situations where there is one monolithic, very identifiable event: a single test everyone takes together under the same conditions that functions as an Olympic-style, make-or-break outcome, so every flaw or source of bias is fully exposed. GPA is more spread out over time, multiple sources of assessment, many more invisible factors, subjective bias can pop up in any number of places....the very thing that makes it at least as biased and unfair as the SAT is also what makes it harder to attribute and feel direct responsibility. I feel like most people understand deep down that the system as a whole is inherently stacked, and GPA is simply a mirror of how this reality plays out in the school context (which itself, in turn, is a warmup for how it works out in society). Whereas, the SAT is a specific instrument - a technology - where there is at least the ideal that we could control the conditions and make it fair.

So there's a kind of salience bias. It just *sounds* inherently worse if you speak of someone left behind due to arbitrary metrics on a big standardized test, compared to someone left behind in the general game of life via the game of school. Because we take the latter for granted.

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Good points.

I wonder if this is promoted because of underlying fears that they are going to get rid of affirmative action. I think it’s too bad it, because if anything else, they should expand affirmative action to include kids who are white but low income, along with everyone who is covered right now.

I think the trouble is that affluent liberal white people want a system, where they can feel good about things being equal,without them having to give up anything.

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Mar 4, 2023·edited Mar 4, 2023

"I also think there’s a subtler bias at play: journalism and punditry and analysis attract a particular kind of person. And that kind of person tends to be a humanities type, a words person, who struggled in math and thus viewed the SAT with stress and resentment. There’s a lot of people in the media who went to Bates when they thought they were entitled to go to Columbia, they think the SAT is why, and they never got over it. And I believe that this resentment plays a large role in the remarkably unbalanced coverage we’ve had of the SAT issue. I really do."

A long time ago when I was still relatively young, a popular belief among the more STEM-centered majors at my college were that the typical math or physics major could do reasonably well in a random literature or humanities course if they had to, whereas the average humanities major would crash and burn in all but the most remedial of quantitative-focused classes.

The average humanities major really did not like this assertion.

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Next step get rid of MCAT for medical school and get rid of premed required courses. Then get rid of medical boards and all specialty qualifying exams.

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Here is a key question. Are white males privileged and oppressive and this explains why they dominated the social and economic power structures, or did white males, because of the history of alpha competition with each other, develop higher skills in the social and economic meritocracy?

Or maybe it is both. But then why do we allow the woke to focus on the former and not the latter?

I have a perspective based on my career where I have had the pleasure of working for and with female coworkers that were brilliant and capable and yet I eventually ended up promoted higher than them within the organization. I worked for progressive companies... in one case in the healthcare industry where the corporations was 60% female employees. There really was not much gender discrimination that I could see. My career was mostly a pure meritocracy... senior company management was in a competitive slug-out in their markets and naturally wanted the best and brightest employees and managers to help them win.

But the females tended to not advance as much.

And I think there two primary reasons for this.

One - some had family obligations that prevented them from relocating and/or taking on more responsibility. In one corporate reorganization where the CEO retired and the COO was promoted to CEO and another well-loved and respected junior executive who was female and a long-term employee... who was a happily married empty-nester... her parents needed care.

Two - I think that female employees often mistake what they see as a glass-ceiling as really a mismatch for their brain wiring, DNA and experience compared to what is required and what is effective in higher level management roles. The excuse is that it is a "boys-club"; but it isn't that... it is a business orientation of a certain design that has been tried and tested over the centuries of capitalism and that has been filtered because it works... and that people with ambition to move up have to learn how to adopt.

I will use an example where I have a female board member that fixates on employee engagement surveys for the company I run, while the male board members don't really care and only care about bottom line financial performance and executing on business strategy.

Here is the thing... if collaborative, high-feeling, high-touch, identity-politics inclusion management styles worked to achieve business results, those would be more often adopted. They don't and so they should not.

Everything should be about the meritocracy. It is the secret sauce of our astounding USA success.

There is a way and path that is optimized to achieve success. There are best-practices.

Eliminating the meritocracy and replacing it with DEI to help advance people in groups branded as being historical victims of white male oppression is just throwing the baby out with the bath water. It is just going to result in piss-poor results in everything... destroy the Great Experiment as we lose our edge to be creative and productive.

What we need instead is a great education and opportunity awakening... to blow up the crappy and inadequate public school system and replace it with a modern marvel that successful prepares all students based on their individual needs to be prepared for their next step on a path to an economically self-sufficient live. And meanwhile decouple from China, stop the damn flood of poor and uneducated immigrants that drive down wages.... and reinvest in American industrialism, innovation and production.

It isn't today that white males are discriminatory, it is that they are fucking better at most things that contribute to a good economic life. So teach non-whites and females how to do the same and open up the flood gates of opportunity for everyone to participate and share in the returns.

But stop with the fucking racist and divisive DEI woke crap as it is not going to lead to anything good for anyone except for the charlatan contractors and politicians that peddle it for cash.

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