What Do The LA School Wars Say About America`s Future?

Last week saw two events exemplifying the vast
contradiction between how the American upper middle
class views IQ and schooling in public—and what it
actually thinks in private.

The widely-reviled heretic

Charles Murray
published three essays in the Wall
Street Journal
on how we are kidding ourselves about

schooling
("Half of all children are

below average in intelligence,
and teachers can do
only so much for them")
,

college
("Too
many Americans
are going to college")
, and the

wisdom of the elite
("Those with superior
intelligence need to learn to be wise")
, and was …

widely reviled
for his heresy.

Meanwhile, the bourgeois parents of liberal Los
Angeles were in a frenzy as last Friday`s deadline for
postmarking applications for magnet public schools bore
down upon them.


Bob Sipchen
wrote in the Los Angeles Times:

"Negligent Los Angeles
parents take note: You have only until Friday to get a
postmark on the magnet school application that your more
responsible peers regard—rightly or wrongly—as their
last desperate hope for getting their children a good
education at

taxpayer expense
… It goes without saying that you`re
terrified of the

local middle school,
which you just assume has lousy
test scores because of those

tough-looking kids
you see hanging out in front,
presumably spreading

graffiti
,

smack
and

STDs
." [How
to make it to a magnet
By Bob Sipchen (Monday`s
Column, Jan. 15, 2007)]

For example, the Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched
Studies (SOCES)
received 2939 applications last year for its 192
openings. That seven percent acceptance rate is lower
than

Harvard`s
.

The LA Times ran daily updates of the "Ask
a Magnet Yenta
"
advice column by

Sandra Tsing Loh
on how to manipulate the magnet
system to avoid having to send your kid to either a
normal public school or a private school that can run up
to

$27,000
.

"Actually, now that there are so many

Democrats in private school
, the preferred term is
`independent" school,`"
acidly notes Loh, who may be
the only conservative performance artist in America, in
her hilarious Scandalously
Informal Guide to Los Angeles Schools
.”

Why does what Loh calls the "Prius-driving
screenwriter"
class find magnets so magnetically
attractive? Some magnets have admissions requirements
(such as, in a couple of cases, scoring at the

99.9th percentile
on the

Wechsler IQ test
), but most magnets in the Los
Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD)
choose students solely through lotteries. Yet many boast
significantly higher

test scores
, up to 60 percentiles above the normal
open enrollment public school in the same neighborhood.

It would be nice if the magnets had discovered some
magic formula for making children brighter. But, in
reality, they typically succeed by attracting smarter,
more diligent

parents
, who

tend to have
smarter, more diligent

children
. Notably, the better magnets tend to have

higher percentages
of whites and Asians than are
found in the overall

LAUSD
—the country`s second largest district, where
whites make up only

nine percent
and Asians six percent of total
students.

The court order setting up the LA magnet system in

1977
established a quota of 40 percent for white
students. But far fewer

white kids
now remain in LAUSD. So, in an amusing
example of "reverse-reverse discrimination", it`s
sometimes easier for whites to get into a fashionable
magnet than for the much

more numerous minorities.
Further boosting the
desirability of magnets, Asians, who are so often
indefatigable in finding the best free schools for their
kids, are legally considered a minority in magnets
(unlike in

college admissions,
where they are

normally defined as part of the majority
). So many
magnets have only a limited number of Hispanics and
blacks.

And that`s definitely okay with LA`s liberal
upper middle class. They may talk a good game about the
benefits of diversity, but they ignore their
oft-proclaimed principles when it comes to what

their own children`s peer group
will look like.

As Loh notes, at the hilltop "independent"
school where her Prius-driving screenwriter friend who
couldn`t get his kids into a magnet spends $38,000
annually to educate his six-year-old twins, they
"honor diversity among the foliage"
. And

yet

"To judge by the student
population there, L.A. "diversity" looks like 14 white
kids and

Savion Glover
. 10 white kids and 5 brown kids is
"urban", 5 white kids and 10 brown kids looks, well, not
safe".

So, what`s the magnet schools` secret for keeping
away uninvolved and unintelligent parents?

Simple: LAUSD makes the magnet application process

dauntingly confusing
. As

Sipchen
wrote in the LA Times:

"There is an element of
self-selection that gives magnets an advantage. If
Juanita-Jane`s mom goes through the psychic pain of
cracking the application process, is she going to let
her daughter mess up? And if parents are doing their bit
to keep their kids in line academically, is it any
wonder that the best teachers apply to these programs
and arrive at work with a good attitude?"

The most baffling aspect of the magnet system is that
it pays for your child to first be rejected for several
years. That`s the prime way for your child to build up
the requisite "magnet points" to move to the head
of the line in the lottery when you really want to get
the little dear into a magnet.

Are the Prius-driving screenwriters` stereotypes
about non-magnet public schools in LA correct?

Recently, reams of test score data about public
school students have become available.
Unfortunately, there are so many different tests across
the country that the scores are difficult for the public
to interpret.

For example, the LAUSD reports that

Jefferson High
in Los Angeles has an

API of 482
. But what does that mean? Is 482 high or
low? Parents of prospective students desperately want to
know, but education officials aren`t in any hurry for
you to get a good grasp of what that score means.

Fortunately, I finally found a database that reports,
for each of the 379 public high schools serving the ten
million people of Los Angeles County, the average score
on a test widely understood by Americans—the venerable
SAT college admissions test.

These high school SAT scores have important
implications for public policy. For example, in several
states where racial preferences in college admissions
have been challenged by referenda or by the courts, the
legislature

adopted plans
guaranteeing spots in the state`s
university system to anyone whose grade point average
ranked in his school`s top twenty percent (Florida), ten
percent (Texas), or four percent (California)…no matter
how low his SAT or ACT scores.

Are all these students likely to thrive at state
universities? Or will many find themselves floundering
in a school where the pace of instruction is too fast
for them?

And what do these SAT scores by high school say about
the

No Child Left Behind
act?

Finally, what do the

students of Los Angeles County
portend for the
future of America, which is being transformed by public
policy into something that increasingly looks like LA
writ large?

I`ll review these data in detail next week.

[Steve Sailer [email
him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and

movie critic
for


The American Conservative
.
His website

www.iSteve.blogspot.com
features his daily
blog.]