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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Educate the 99%, who got no help from affirmative action

"Affirmative action," a euphemism for racial preferences, "is a misguided, discriminatory policy whose end is long overdue," writes Coleman Hughes, a young black writer, on Substack.

Coleman Hughes

It helped only 1 percent of black and Hispanic 18-year olds get into a college, estimates Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade. The rest didn't go to college or didn't apply to a college selective enough to use racial preferences. (Most black, white and Hispanic college students attend a college that admits at least 75 percent of applicants.)


Young people who go to non-Ivy colleges are not blighted for life, Hughes argues. Most Fortune 500 CEOs attended colleges that accept 60 to 95 percent of applicants, "not the elite schools affected by this verdict."


Many states banned racial preferences in college admissions decades ago, Hughes writes. "If our nation’s colleges were about to become segregated hellscapes, don’t you think you would have heard –– at some point in the last 20 years –– that California, Washington, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Arizona, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Idaho were already segregated hellscapes?"


Elite college admissions can't possibly equalize outcomes by race, Hughes writes. It affects only the most successful young people and it comes far too late.


Reducing unequal outcomes requires building human capital -- the "skills, knowledge, abilities and habits that lead to higher productivity," he writes. While a lot is "determined by peer culture and parental investment," these are beyond the reach of the state. Education is not.


Harvard economist Roland Fryer studies 39 high-achieving charter schools in New York City and "identified five variables that correlated with success: (1) frequent teacher feedback, (2) the use of data to guide instruction, (3) high-dosage tutoring, (4) increased school time, and (5) a culture of high expectations," Hughes writes.


Fryer designed a randomized experiment in low-performing Houston Public Schools. Half were overhauled based on the five variables.

The principals were fired and replaced –– along with about half of the teachers. School days were lengthened. Extra tutoring was provided. Extra tests were given and the results were used to tailor each student’s tutoring. And a culture of excellence and high expectation was consciously fostered from the top-down. The overall result was a 0.103 standard deviation increase in math scores for black kids, with even larger gains for elementary-aged kids, and kids from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

Why not do that in schools across the nation, Hughes asks. If a fraction of the energy devoted to "affirmative action" for the elites were directed at creating effective schools for everyone else . . . It would be a start to addressing racial inequality.

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