Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Ten Percent or Affirmative Action?

Also from the "I meant to blog about this weeks ago file"- Why the Ten Percent Plan is Worse Than Traditional Affirmative Action.

I've always had a bit of a soft spot in my heart for Texas's Ten Percent plan, which replaces traditional race-based affirmative action for a plan which allows anyone in the top ten percent of any high school graduating class in the state to attend any university within the Texas system. All the criticisms here focus on the potentially negative side effects. What's ignored is the fact that the program does more to solve the problems of poverty and education than affirmative action ever did.

To briefly address Ilya Somin's criticisms- First, it's not just that affirmative action admits inferior students as well, it's that admitting inferior students is the purpose of these programs in the first place. If traditional measures of achievement were fair to the poor and the disadvantaged, we'd have no need for these programs in the first place.

Secondly, I'm sure we all know plenty of students who have gamed the system and taken easier classes and easier teachers in order to advance their GPA. No system is perfect.

Thirdly, the point of the ten percent plan is not strictly racial diversity. It's about leveling the playing field for motivated students, regardless of racial or economic background.

And finally, I have little sympathy for programs that don't benefit "high achieving minority students." The New York Times article cites to a black student who attended a competitive engineering magnet school in Houston. Although he took several Advanced Placement classes, this student did not manage to finish in the top 10 percent of his class. Again, I cite back to my other points. And clearly, seeing as this kid made it into the Texas University system on his own, he didn't need any special programs to help him.

The other point I'd mention is the statistic that the University of Texas at Austin is 70 percent "ten percenters." Of course, what isn't mentioned is how many of those- probably a very large percentage- would have been accepted even without the program. After all, kids that do well in good schools generally tend to get into colleges of their choice. To beat the same drum again, the point of these programs is not racial diversity (which can be a nice side effect), but equalizing access for the poor.


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