Upcoming Affirmative Action Ploys

From the NYT:

If Affirmative Action Is Doomed, What’s Next?
JUNE 17, 2014
David Leonhardt

Affirmative action as we know it is probably doomed.

When you ask top Obama administration officials and people in the federal court system about the issue, you often hear a version of that prediction.

Well, yeah, and I’ve been hearing that prediction for decades.

Five of the Supreme Court’s nine justices have never voted in favor of a race-based affirmative action program. Already, the court has ruled that such programs have the burden of first showing “that available, workable race-neutral alternatives do not suffice.”

Okay, but the Supremes haven’t gone out of their way to rule significantly against it, except in narrow cases of grievous injustice by the court of appeals, like Ricci and Schuette. Broader cases like Fisher tend to lead to damp squib decisions. And, it’s not going to stay even that way unless the Republicans win some Presidential elections stat.

Despite this reality, many supporters of affirmative action are in some version of denial.

Or, they are hyper-realistically convinced they, come what may from the Supreme Court, they can still cheat. After all, they are on the side of the angels, so what’s a little lying, racial discrimination, and omerta?

Top university officials say that the court hasn’t prohibited their approach yet and say they hope it never will. Few colleges or companies are trying innovative approaches.

Two new books aim to fill the void. They lay out detailed visions of an affirmative action that would combine racial and economic diversity – in contrast to the current version, which has done little to promote economic diversity. Above all, the books answer the common liberal concern that economic-based affirmative action is a bad substitute for race-based affirmative action.

“Race-based affirmative action is a blunt instrument that doesn’t help the vast majority of black and Latino kids,” says Sheryll Cashin, who is the author of one of the new books, “Place, Not Race” (Beacon Press), as well as a Georgetown University law professor and a former clerk to Justice Thurgood Marshall. “And ironically it engenders resentments that make it harder to build multiracial alliances to build investment in education.”

The insight of both books is that the obstacles facing many black and Latino children can be captured through a set of variables that are, on the surface, race-neutral.

In other words, carefully contrive systems delivering intentional disparate impact against whites and Asians.

A system based on these factors, rather than race per se, would be undeniably constitutional and more politically popular.

Not under the concept of disparate impactm if that 1972 ruling is applied in a racially even-handed fashion. If, on the other hand, it’s assumed that disparate impact is a Who? Whom? concept, then it would be A-OK.

The most obvious of the factors is income — but it is not the most important. Supporters of today’s affirmative action often point out that a strictly income-based version of the program would produce much less racial diversity, and they’re right.

As Caroline Hoxby of Stanford has documented, the biggest undertapped cognitive resource in this country are pretty smart white boys in flyover country, often from broken homes.

Fewer than one-third of households making $40,000 a year or less are black or Latino, according to census data.

But income alone understates the challenges facing many minority children. Black and Latino students are more likely to live in poor neighborhoods than white and Asian students with similar incomes.

The next big thing is going to be claiming that affirmative action should be based not on race, not on income, but on property values. Of course, the fact that lower class blacks tend to lower property values in the neighborhoods they move into (e.g., Detroit) won’t be mentioned.

Black and Latino families are also less wealthy than white and Asian families. And black children in particular are much more likely to be growing up without two parents in their home.

Why stop there? UCLA decreed about a decade ago in finagling around Proposition 209 that applicants would get bonus points for having been shot (victims of hunting accidents presumably need not apply).

Proponents of a new kind of affirmative action prefer an approach that focuses on wealth, neighborhood and family structure, as well as parents’ income, education and other factors. Doing so steers clear of the legal restrictions on racial classifications — and, in the minds of most Americans, is fair. Is an affluent teenager with a 1,300 SAT score really more accomplished than the valedictorian of a troubled high school with a 1,250? No.

You know, you always hear made up examples that assumes there are tons of black and Hispanic students who are just infinitesimally behind white and Asian students. It’s not really like that.

Hey, a commenter at the NYT just pointed that out:


David 4 minutes ago
This 1300 versus 1250 SAT difference is a canard. Average benefits of affirmative are upwards of two hundred points and often mess up the…

Leonhardt continues:

The second new book – “The Future of Affirmative Action,” which comes out Tuesday — includes a detailed analysis of class-based systems, from Anthony Carnevale, Stephen Rose and Jeff Strohl. The bottom line is that they would vastly increase economic diversity while leaving broadly similar racial diversity. Under some systems, particularly those that emphasize students’ high-school rank, racial diversity would increase. Using high-school rank — as Texas has done — is so powerful because of today’s high levels of economic and racial segregation.

Okay, but rank-based systems just crush the chances of the bourgeois black and Hispanic students that colleges really want, the ones whose parents sacrificed to get them into schools with whites and Asians. For example, Education Realist is always pointing that the “underrepresented minorities” at Silicon Valley high schools score on tests well above the national means for their races, but are left in the dust in terms of high school class rank by the large numbers of Asians and white kids of engineers. And yet these bourgeois blacks tend to be better prepared to graduate from college than slum students with high class ranks and low test scores.

This question was statistically studied in obsessive statistical detail by Harvard’s admissions department in the 1970s and reported in former staffer Robert Klitgaard’s book Choosing Elites: Harvard was better off choosing affluent black students who had been little fish in big white ponds in, say, Westchester County than the king of the hill at a South Bronx high school.

The biggest downside to these class-based approaches is that they don’t acknowledge the role that race plays in American society. If you somehow found otherwise identical white and black students — living in the same neighborhood, with the same income, wealth and structure — the black student would still probably have to do more just to keep up. Racism is not dead, as social-science research makes clear.

Or differences in average IQ are not dead, but of course that’s “racism” to know that fact.

The black lawyer’s child in Westchester County tends to regress to a lower mean than the white lawyer’s child in Westchester County. Is that the insidious effects of racism? Or is that more the simple workings of the mathematical property of regression toward the mean, with blacks regressing toward lower means than whites?

Of course, it would be speculation to know about regression toward the mean, while positing complex, subtle, ethereal effects of racism aren’t speculation at all but Science.