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 personal 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, here’s 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 of his abilities.”
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.