Thursday Reading List: Inequitable Admissions, False Comparisons, and College Chaos

New York City has a handful of selective high schools that admit students based on test scores. Monica Disare of Chalkbeat looked at the demographics of this year's admitted class:

Only 3.8 percent of offers to attend eight specialized high schools went to black students and 6.5 percent went to Hispanic students this year, according to data released Wednesday, though those populations comprise about 70 percent of city students. The vast majority of eighth graders who received offers were white or Asian. Students are admitted to eight of the specialized high schools based only on their scores on the high-stakes Specialized High School Admissions Test. And while those schools represent just one subset of New York City’s top high schools, their long history of serving top students — and the rapid decline of diversity at those schools over the last two decades — has put them at the center of a contentious debate about whether the city is doing enough to help black and Hispanic students succeed.

That's eye-poppingly bad. New York City - like most places in America - has significant wealth, employment, and opportunity gaps between residents of color and White residents. By systematically under-representing Black and Hispanic students in selective high schools, the city is exacerbating those gaps. It is impossible to assert that a test is "fair" when its outcomes reinforce inequality to such an extent. This story is a good reminder that traditional public schools deserve just as much scrutiny as charter schools - if not more - for the extent to which their policies run against equity.

Jamil Smith of MTV News draws a connection between this sort of systematic inequality, and Ben Carson's recent comments comparing slavery to immigration:

Carson’s remarks were not just wrong in every way "wrong" can be defined. They were slavery denialism dressed up as patriotism ... when that rubbish is affirmed by another black person, it is a different thing altogether ... The last thing racial revisionists want is for the American public to understand the true horror of slavery, for they may then decide that there is a debt that remains unpaid. They could also understand how slavery's roots have sprouted into today's economy, prisons, and schools, and continue to thrive ... That's why men like Carson are important to a contemporary conservative movement driven, increasingly, by white nationalism. Carson provides not simply symbolic cover for his fellow Republicans to push racist policy such as Trump's discriminatory travel bans. By claiming that slaves were immigrants, he also positions that policy in a narrative of individualistic heroism.

"Narratives of individualistic heroism" are a great cover story for ignoring systematic inequality. Individualistic heroism celebrates the one Black student who was admitted to Staten Island Technical High School (seriously ... there was only 1), while ignoring the fact that the system was set up to exclude all of her peers. The conflation of slavery and immigration is particularly pernicious, as it facilitates false comparisons between dissimilar groups of people, with radically different histories in America.

Speaking of overcoming complicated histories, Jon Marcus of The Hechinger Report examines the fight to lower the cost of college in South Africa:

The parallels between the problems in South Africa and those in the United States and elsewhere are inescapable. Both have seen their governments investing less in higher education and students and families struggling to pay more, with many of the poorest ending up at campuses with low success rates while those who are wealthier and white have access to the best universities ... In South Africa, this has bubbled over into turmoil, something local experts chalk up to the relatively recent triumph of the fight against apartheid, which is still fresh in collective memory, and frustration that not all the promises that were made by politicians then have yet been kept. But [university president Adam] Habib and others say it’s only a matter of time before the same thing flares up everywhere.

Exploding costs. Inequitable admissions policies. Racial strife. Any of that sound familiar? The other major factor that Marcus mulls is the extent to which the battle over college costs in South Africa is generational. In America too we are spending less and less money on supporting our young people, and more and more money providing for the longer-than-expected retirement of the older generations. It's hard to see how the current division-of-spending can hold.

Meanwhile, on American campuses, overt White supremacy is having a renaissance, as Blavity reports:

Given the current social and political climate, white supremacist groups have stepped up their efforts to target college students in their recruitment efforts. A report by the Anti-Defamation League indicates that these groups are making “an unprecedented outreach effort to attract and recruit students on American college campuses" ... While the Trump administration has been very vocal about thwarting the radicalization and recruitment efforts of what they refer to as “radical Islamic terrorism,” they have yet to address the documented increase in domestic terrorism of white supremacist groups ... “White supremacists have consciously made the decision to focus their recruitment efforts on students and have in some cases openly boasted of efforts to establish a physical presence on campus,” Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement. “While there have been recruitment efforts in the past, never have we seen anti-Semites and white supremacists so focused on outreach to students on campus.”

The media has an unfortunate habit of attributing racist behavior to the underclasses, while dismissing evidence that their wealthier and middle-class peers indulge similar attitudes. The proliferation of racist terror tactics on college campuses should help obviate that distinction. Moreover, when commentators suggest that racism is a byproduct of economic stagnation, they give tacit permission for people who feel marginalized to engage in racist behaviors as a means of acting out. Ignoring this trend is dangerous.