"Diversity" Hits A Dead End

"Diversity" is one of those words that has a completely different meaning in the New York Times than anything you thought it might mean.  If you don't believe me, you will be entertained by considering an article by Elizabeth Harris that appeared on Friday March 6, headlined "Lack of Diversity Persists in Admissions to Elite City Schools." 

As background for those unfamiliar with our system, New York City has eight elite specialized high schools, the most famous being Stuyvesant (in Manhattan), Bronx Science and Brooklyn Technical.  Admission to these schools is by a test given each year to eighth graders.  Because the result is strictly determined by a test, there is no opportunity for behind-the-scenes maneuvering and racial gerrymandering as we find, for example, in admissions to most elite state universities around the country.  Somewhat remarkably, in this competition the chips just fall where they may.  The results of this year's test just came out, and 5,103 students (of a total of about 70,000+ eighth graders) were offered spots in the eight elite schools. 

And the racial breakdown of those admitted?  According to Harris, of the 5,103, 5% were black, 7% were Hispanic, 28% were white, and 52% were Asian.  (She doesn't tell us about the missing 8%.)  Recognize here that the Asians are substantially immigrants or children of immigrants, and themselves from wildly diverse communities including Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Tibetans, Filippinos, Indonesians, Vietnamese, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Pakistanis, Bengalis, Afghanis, Iranians, Israelis, Arabs, and I could go on.  If you want to get some flavor of this, try taking the #7 subway train out to Queens some day.  So how exactly do these test results demonstrate "lack of diversity"?  Harris does not explain.  Here's the only explanation I can come up with:  We are operating with a new definition of "diversity" where the word means something like "a situation where blacks and Hispanics are represented with at least as high a percentage as their percentage of the population as a whole, and where all other ethnic groups are represented at a percentage lower than their percentage of the population as a whole."

You are undoubtedly curious as to how these high school admissions numbers compare to the racial breakdown of New York City's population overall, and to the racial breakdown of all New York City public school students.  You won't be surprised to learn that Harris does not provide most of those figures, but here is a 2013 report prepared for the New York City School Construction Authority (pdf) that has both Census data for the City as a whole (at pages 8-9) as well as demographic data for the City schools system (at pages 34-36).   Of course, even here we do not get any further breakdown of the "Asian" category.  With that limitation, here are the numbers:

City as a whole (2010 Census data): White 44%, black 25.5%, Asian 12.7%, Hispanic 28.6%.  (The Census numbers add up to well over 100% because "Hispanic" is not a race and overlaps with other categories.)  New York City school enrollment (2011/12 school year): White 16%, black 28%, Asian 15%, Hispanic 41%.

One thing immediately obvious (and that Harris totally omits) is that it's not just blacks and Hispanics, but also whites, who come out in the high school admissions competition with substantially fewer successful candidates than their pro rata share of the population.  In other words, there is no way of construing the numbers to imply that whites are advantaging themselves over the blacks and Hispanics.  Rather, it's the Asians who are highly successful, claiming slots from all of whites, blacks, and Hispanics.

Harris's summary of the reaction to the test results:

In the public school system in recent years, just shy of 30 percent of students have been black and about 40 percent have been Hispanic, and there is widespread agreement that the low numbers of these students in specialized schools is a problem.

I love that unspecific "there is widespread agreement."  Has anybody asked any of the Asians?

Then there are the reactions of Mayor Bill de Blasio and his Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose son is a senior at Brooklyn Technical High School, the largest specialized school, said the schools should more closely resemble the population of the city.  In a statement on Thursday, the city’s schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, said, “It’s critical that our city’s specialized high schools reflect the diversity of our city.”

Sounds to me like they are proposing naked discrimination against the Asians.  Hey Asians, how many of you know that you have now been designated as people against whom naked discrimination by the state is to be permitted and encouraged?  Your dad may speak broken English and drive a cab 12 hours a day, but already you have been deemed to have too much "privilege" and you must be knocked back by having the state impose quotas on you.

What de Blasio and Farina are proposing is very analogous to the naked discrimination practiced against Jews in an earlier generation by, for example, the Ivy League schools and large law firms.  Except in the case of the Jews, while others discriminated against them, New York City and State behaved honorably and, for example, allowed them to dominate the elite high schools for many years.  The good news is that the Jews overcame the discrimination against them, and my bet is that the Asians will too.