Affirmative Action: Bad Policy, Bad Science

Leonhardt, D. (2007). The new affirmative action. New York Times. September 30, 2007. Available online:

An interesting article in the New York Times about a rentier class, racial discrimination, and bad science. The focus is on racial jerryrigging by the University of California system. While on the second page I realized that one could replace “black” with “non-asian” with no loss of factual accuracy. Sure enough:

In particular, U.C.L.A.’s experience suggests that some tension between race and class in the admissions process may be inevitable. Even as the number of low-income black freshmen soared this year, the overall number of low-income freshmen fell somewhat. The rise in low-income black students was accompanied by a fall in low-income Asian students — not a decline in well-off students. U.C.L.A. administrators say they don’t fully understand why.

The article also goes into Peter Taylor’s race-based charity work and some really bad analysis of an “intelligece test” given to one-year olds.

9 thoughts on “Affirmative Action: Bad Policy, Bad Science”

  1. I wish that Leonhardt had given us a few more details about the “intelligence test” given to one-year-olds … what kind of intelligence could this possibly test? A one-year-old typically can say about five words and understand maybe fifty, can't yet form social bonds with people who don't regularly feed him or her, still topples over when he or she walks, and has good reason to believe that the world exists just for him or her.

  2. fl,

    After some googling, I think the article is talking about the Fagan test of infant intelligence. The test appears to measure novelty seeking — “The Fagan test uses the amount of time babies look at a new object compared with how long they look at a familiar object to estimate their intelligence.” [1]

    The test appears to be good at identifying low-IQ chilcdren (one standard deviation and further below the mean) while not predicting much else [2]. So, assuming the New York Times article is correct, one can (I think) conclude that retardation is not much more common in blacks than whites.

    PS: Nice post over at Primrose Road! [3]


  3. Dan,

    Have you any solutions for the larger problem discussed in the article: that of low-income students not attending the better institutions like UCLA?

    (Full disclosure: Since my above average SAT score at 24 was apparently not enough for me to get into Florida, Florida State, Florida International or South Florida, let alone Univ. of Washington, I've read up on kids who earn their AA at a community college and transfer to higher institutions.)

    The numbers are impressive for some public instituations while others seem to discourage it or just don't put an onus on encouraging the upgrade. Given this is just one of the main routes for low-income, lower-middle class students, yet the problem seems quite pronounced from reading this article and others.

    The racial aspects are discouraging as well, because the benefits of school choice/vouchers, charter schools and local reforms (as well as some of the better aspects of NCLB) are decades away from showing in poor black and Latino students.

    We simply can't leave this kids behind. We're creating our own GAP and blissfully moving on like its no big deal.

  4. Eddie,

    As the purpose of college education policy is to create a more successful citizenry, and the most important factors in how successful someone ends up being seems to be their intelligence and hard-work, limiting access to college on the basis of ability to pay doesn't make sense.

    On another note, if you do decide to go for an AA first, make sure the credits will transfer fine. The “last” institution you go to matters more than the first — more people will ask “where did you graduate from” than “where was your first two years?”!

  5. Having been one of those lower income kids let me let you in on something. The JC system in CA gauran-damn-tees us a shot. I don't typically give kudos to Democrats, but Pat Brown hit a homerun when he set up the CA college education system. Anyone willing to work hard gets a shot.

    There's a two tier system(UC and CSU) and you can get certificates that earn your way in to either tier. I dropped out of HS, worked for three years, spent two years at a JC and got accepted to UCLA, UCI, UCR, UCSD, and UCD. UCLA was the first to tell me I was accepted(though I declined and went to Davis(UCD) instead). California already has a way to get lower income kids in, Eddie. I don't know about the other states in the Union, but CA already has a way to ensure that kids who just happen to have been born poor and gone to lesser HSs get a shot at the brass ring.

    That's why I'm pissed off about putting a thumb on the scale as they are at UCLA. Something we foudn in CA is that letting people in with below the class avg SAT scores was that it virtually gaurantees 80% will drop out. No, this is wrong. This is setting people up to fail, and badly. If you think you can hack it but don't get in, go to the JC and prove it. Then you'll get in. That's the CA experience. Besides it costs about 10x less to do your two years of lower division work at the JC(which is what Brown wanted everyone to do). Even Stanford takes transfers.

    no, putting your thumb on the scale is wrong. In CA, after 209 passed everyone complained about there being fewer blacks at UCB and such. What they didn't care to mention was that more were going to CSU schools and graduating in higher numbers, and that there was an increase in black graduate students in the state from CSU schools. CA is fine. I don't know about the rest of the country, but putting the finger on the scale in this instance is just, excuse my French, FUBAR.

  6. I've read that many wealthy Californians are having their kids drop out of high school and are instead enrolling them in a CA JC. They save a bunch of money; they accelerate their kid's education; they can still get into the top schools for the last two years and graduation.

    In Texas they require that UT accept any student in the top 10% of their high school. That works against some kids who have higher SATs, but attend virtually all-white high schools. It has probably hurt UT's national ranking, but for the wrong reason.

    There national ranking should be hurt because because of their neglectful undergraduate academics.

  7. “In Texas they require that UT accept any student in the top 10% of their high school. That works against some kids who have higher SATs, but attend virtually all-white high schools. It has probably hurt UT's national ranking, but for the wrong reason.

    There national ranking should be hurt because because of their neglectful undergraduate academics.”

    Not to mention losing to Colorado!

  8. Wasn't that precious?

    Basically I like gadget offenses, so in the Big 12 I'm a fan of Texas Tech, which has a new defensive coordinator. What was news to me is that they even had a defensive coordinator!

  9. No, I don't like percentage admissions either. It's the same type of finger on the balance thing. It's putting kids who proll'y don't have the skills to survive in a situation where they're likely to fail. Really, being a product of the JC system, where I had time to learn how to learn and develop other skills first, I think it best not to put those kids in a situation where they're bound to fail while there is a better option.

    SOA: I'll do you one better. In the area I grew up they're even instituted that as a policy. Some kids get to leave normal HS and attend the JC—and it isn't the rich kids up in Anahiem Hills either. More times than not it is the troubled and poor kids they send to this program. It seems to work. Look at the Santa Ana Community College District for more info on it. Can't remember the name of it right now though.

    It's this CA system that basically has me upset with a lot of people in the state. They basically hand anyone willing to try a college degree. YOu have to actively not want to go to college to not go in CA, imo(well, let me amend that a little. If you live in 'big city' places like Oakland, Long Beach, LA, or Orange County. Bakersfield and Central Valley places not so much). And yet people yell and scream that there's no way out. BS, BS, BS.

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