Is 10% the wrong solution?

Texas’ Ten Percent Plan — guaranteed state university admission to students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class — is worse than affirmative action, argues Ilya Somin of the Volokh Conspiracy. Because so many black and Hispanic students attend segregated high schools, the plan has maintained racial and ethic diversity in the state universities. But it’s made it much harder for students who do well at competitive high schools to gain admission based on their honors classes, high test scores and extracurriculars.

Seventy-one percent of the 6,864 Texans in the [UT Austin flagship campus] freshman class are top 10 percenters, compared with 41 percent in the first year the formula was used. That steady growth has frustrated college officials who have seen their flexibility to admit high school class presidents, high SAT scorers, science fair winners, immigrant strivers, artists and the like narrow

Students can game the system by taking easier classes to boost their class rank and transferring in senior year to a weaker high school, Solmin writes.

I suspect few students really transfer and weighting grades for Advanced Placement classes would reward students who challenge themselves. But I’d be very interested in the success rates of 10 percenters admitted with low or mediocre SAT scores. Are they really prepared?

California, which admits the top 4 percent, isn’t seeing a dramatic impact on quality — most kids who do that well are dedicated students — but also isn’t seeing much impact on racial or ethnic diversity. In San Jose, the top 4 percent of graduates at mostly Hispanic high schools tend to be Vietnamese. It takes a lot of segregation to make this work as a substitute for race-based affirmative action.

These plans do improve socioeconomic balance. In addition to minority legislators, the Texas plan is supported strongly by rural legislators who see their low-income white students getting a much better shot at UT and Texas A&M.

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  1. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I believe the SF Symphony auditions behind a blanket to avoid racial or gender discrimination. Schools should try that.

  2. JorgXMcKie says:

    Well, there’s this thingy called ‘performance budgeting’ see. It’s difficult, but it seems to work. It tends to hold just about all concerned responsible for *outcomes* instead of outputs or ‘throughputs’.

    Look. Anydamnthing that lessens the cold, dead grip of the Education Establishment on the school system can’t possibly hurt, given the current situation.

    I am so sick of watching the Detroit Public School system sink deeper into the crapper (if that’s actually possible, although it does seem, against all odds, to get worse every year) while all concerned insist that all they need is more money.

    You know, if I took my car to the same mechanic to be repaired and he repeatedly failed to care for it properly, I think eventually I’d learn and go somewhere else. With education it seems we just keep going back to the same lousy shop.

  3. Walter E. Wallis wrote:

    I believe the SF Symphony auditions behind a blanket to avoid racial or gender discrimination.

    Oh, I don’t believe that.

    How can the blessings of diversity be ensured if under-represented groups are held to the same, unfair standards as their oppressors?

    JorgXMcKie wrote:

    Well, there’s this thingy called ‘performance budgeting’ see.

    No, actually there isn’t. At least not as part of the legislation that governs public education. Until the advent of NCLB there wasn’t even much in the way of artful pretense of concern with outputs. There still isn’t, since NCLB is having its fangs gently, relentlessly, pulled. But the idea’s in the air which is something.

    I am so sick of watching the Detroit Public School system sink deeper into the crapper

    Yeah, if only the squandering of vast amounts of tax money and the blighting of hundreds of thousands of children’s lives were an Olympic event Detroit would definitely be ranked. The competition is pretty tough though.

  4. Seems like gender discrimination. Because grades are based to a great extent on behavior (and girl behavior is the standard), girls get better grades than boys. Boys, of course, score equally well on tests as girls. So taking the top 10% is sure to be skewed towards girls. Comments made in your post by some college officials about not being able to take high test scorers illustrate this gender bias. For more on gender bias in grading, see our work at


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