Affirmative Action Backfires Have racial preferences reduced the # of black lawyers?

Not necessarily. Here’s an analogy. If you take a kid out of the finest track program in high school, trained to a fare thee well since he was ten years old, with an at home trainer and nutritionist, he’s going to have a pretty good time in the 400 meter, lets say 00:46. If you take a kid from a crappy high school, where the english teacher doubles as the track coach, and they practice indoors because they don’t have an outdoor track, he might turn in a time of 00:46.5. If I’m a college coach, I’m going to say that the first kid is trained up as fine as he can be, and will never get any better, but the second kid, in a good program, will end up running rings around the first.

Now take a kid from one of those rich suburban high schools. He’s had enrichment programs since he was seven years old. His nearsightedness was diagnosed early and he got corrective lenses.

His (two) parents put him in summer reading programs at the local library, he had a whole spectrum of elective courses, and he’s taken both the Sylvan and the Kaplan SAT training courses. His senior year he went to the community college for entry level college courses.

He ends up getting 1250 on his SAT and a 3.5 GPA.

Now, take kid number two. He went to an inner city school, where the bulk of the teachers are entry level educators getting enough experience to qualify for a job at a better school. They turn over 30% of the teachers every year, and the administrators are all just trying to eke out a few years until retirement and usually last around 3 years in the job.

He was nearsighted since he was eight, but because he never saw an optometrist his vision was not corrected until he was twelve. He lives in a single family home, and it’s one of the large number of homes in America without a single book. He never went to the library until he was in high school, and his school not only has no electives, but some of the required courses are held only every other year for lack of instructors.

His SAT score was 1180 and he got a 3.0 in high school.

If I’m an admissions officer, I’m going to think the right thing is to say, “You know, that second kid, if in a good program, has a lot more potential than the first one, who’s already at the limit.”

Now, I don’t know if that’s the way it always works, and one problem I have with affirmative action programs as executed is that in practice they seem better at making it easier for rich black kids to get into school than for poor kids of any color, but you can’t just look at the scores and say that one is higher than another, and therefore this student is better than that. Otherwise, why have admissions officers at all? Just add up the scores with a spreadsheet.

I went to Berkeley in the early 90’s, and this is exactly what was going on. Different standards were used for different races–and in order to keep the Asian numbers low enough, Asian kids were turned away with higher scores than anyone else had. And the demand for other minority students was so high that they were admitting kids who clearly were not going to be prepared; the standards were wildly different.

Now, as I said above, I was in fact unprepared for Berkeley. I had the grades and the scores, and I was probably just as bright as anyone else, but I went to a rotten school, and was not ready for Cal because I hadn’t been taught. I was a literature major with very little idea of how to analyze literature. So I can quite see that while AA might sound good, the fact is that there is a good chance that even bright kids will flounder and do worse than they would have done at a second-tier place.

All this AA is really just a Band-Aid to try to cover up the gaping, festering wound that is our public school system. The inequity in schools means that bright kids get lost in poor areas, and college is far too late to fix a problem that started in elementary school. If we were really interested in doing well by all kids, we’d fix that instead of installing racial quotas at colleges; but AA is much more a response to political pressure than it is a way to fix inequalities in the system.