Saturday, June 12, 2004

Why Not Just Use SAT Scores?

Here's what happens when universities insist on having a "diverse" student body (from the New York Times online):
Diversity Plan Shaped in Texas Is Under Attack

AUSTIN, Tex., June 8 — Texas lawmakers thought they had found the ideal alternative to race-based affirmative action.

Seven years ago, after a federal court outlawed the use of race in the admissions policies of the state's public universities, the Legislature came up with an answer: It passed a law guaranteeing admission to the top 10 percent of the graduating class from any public or private high school. After a few years of hard work, diversity was restored and other states, including California and Florida, adopted similar approaches. The law looked like a success.

But the 10 percent rule, which seemed to skirt the tricky issue of race so deftly, is coming under increasing attack these days as many wealthy parents complain that their children are not getting a fair shake. A consensus seems to be building that some change is necessary.

Parents whose children have been denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin, the crown jewel of Texas higher education, argue that some high schools are better than others, and that managing to stay in the top 25 percent at a demanding school should mean more than landing in the top 10 percent at a less rigorous one. The dispute shows how hard it is to come up with a system for doling out precious but scarce spots in elite universities without angering someone.
Of course, the Times had to work in a gratuitous reference to "wealthy parents." The real question is whether the 10-percent rule discriminates against the more intelligent high school grads in Texas. The answer is: It must.

The amount of money a school district has to spend per student depends on the average income of households in the school district. Income depends, to a large degree, on intelligence. And intelligence is a heritable trait. Thus, students from "wealthier" school districts are generally more intelligent than students from "poorer" school districts -- because they were born smarter, not because of their more expensive schooling.

The 10-percent rule thus has the same effect as old-fashioned affirmative action. It discriminates against brighter students.

Favorite Posts: Affirmative Action and Race