Racial equity is important, but it doesn’t trump the right to excel – USA TODAY – DC Initiative on Racial Equity
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Students of color need the opportunity to succeed, not a false sense of equivalence.

James S. Robbins  |  Opinion columnist

Pursuing equity for historically disadvantaged groups should not come at the cost of denying others the right to achieve. Yet in practice the drive for equity is having a leveling effect – not just giving everyone an equal chance but punishing those who excel. This sends a bad message, especially for the potential high achievers in the most disadvantaged groups.

Take the reaction to the results of New York City’s Specialized High School Admissions Test. Asian students dominated, taking over half the coveted specialized high school seats, despite being about 16% of the student population. Black teenagers, who make up over a quarter of students, passed in the low single digits.

School Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter called the test results “unacceptable,” and Mayor Bill de Blasio has said that such tests reflect “this old system that has perpetuated massive segregation.”

Promoting equity by leveling

A previous generation would have encouraged kids of all backgrounds to copy what the Asian kids are doing to achieve high scores, presumably studying. But rather than inspire students to make the commitment to do better, Ross Porter wants to do away with the test and “find a more equitable way forward.”

The chancellor’s uncomfortable implication seems to be that Black kids simply cannot do what Asian kids can do. This is false; even in the racially troubled 1930s, Black enrollment in New York specialized schools tracked with the proportion of African American students in the city.

Virginia is one step ahead of New York in promoting equity by leveling. Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, routinely rated as the top high school in the United States, recently eliminated its rigorous admissions test.

Again, the equity issue was too many As


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