Monday, October 22, 2012

Diversity in New York's Private Schools

Why is this news?

Why has it taken decades for people to discover that affirmative action and diversity-based admissions are hurting minority children?

Case in point: New York City private schools have worked long and hard to increase the numbers of minority students.

I cannot imagine why it’s surprising, but when minority children debark at Dalton or Calhoun or Trinity they discover that they do not fit in.

Through no fault of their own. And through no fault of the large coterie of wealthy children who make up the student body.

It’s not about the rich and the middle class; it’s about the chasm between the hyperrich and the lower middle class. The income and status gap is too large to ignore.

Minority children at these schools do not come from the same neighborhoods, do not go on the same vacations, do not attend the same camps, do not go to the same restaurants or shows or athletic events.

Thus, the children self-segregate. Whites over here. Blacks over there. Whites are friends with white; blacks are friends with blacks.

Supposedly, all children will benefit by being exposed to children from different socio-economic backgrounds. In reality, the children self-divide by race, by ethnicity and by status.

Those who suffer the most are minority children.

The New York Times explains:

Students report feeling estranged, studying among peers who often lack any awareness about their socioeconomic status and the differences it entails. They describe a racism that materializes not in insults, but more often in polite indifference, silence and segregation. 

It continues:

Pervading their experience, the students say, is the gulf between those with seemingly endless wealth and resources and those whose families are struggling, a divide often reflected by race.

Worse yet, when minority children attend the best private schools they become alienated from their local community. Not feeling that they belong anywhere they suffer from anomie.

The Times reports on the experience of these students:

They struggle to bridge the two worlds, and some grapple with guilt if they pull away from neighborhood friends. They describe feeling like a guest at someone’s house: you can stay and look, but you don’t belong.

Why did no one understand this before? Are the school administrators so oblivious to human reality that they did not understand that children from grossly disparate backgrounds, having nothing in common, were not going to become best friends? Worse yet, they were not even going to get along.

Do school administrators believe that everyone is the same and that putting them all together in one school is all that is needed to get them to get along?

Or do they, as the Times suggests, believe that the solution to this problem is to make more movies exposing the problem, teaching enhanced sensitivity and hoping against hope that social reality does not exist.

Can anyone be that ignorant about the basics of human psychology?

Of course, minority children suffering from anomie are obviously not going to perform at their best. They will have difficulty taking pride in their achievements when many of their classmates believe that they are simply the beneficiaries of preference programs.

The Times article does not break down minority students by race. It includes Asian-Americans, African-Americans and Hispanic students. If SAT scores are any indication, these children do not perform at anything like the same level. An underperforming African-American child will not be seen the same way as an overperforming Asian-American child.

For many years now Shelby Steele has drawn attention to the fact that affirmative action programs unfairly stigmatize black achievement.

And Thomas Sowell has often argued that putting minority children in schools where they cannot perform at the same level as the other students renders them a disservice.

Even when a black child was accepted in a private school or a university on his merits, the existence of affirmative action makes his achievement suspect.

Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor argued in a recent essay that university affirmative action programs hurt minority students.

They explain:

There is now increasing evidence that students who receive large preferences of any kind—whether based on race, athletic ability, alumni connections or other considerations—experience some clear negative effects: Students end up with poor grades (usually in the bottom fifth of their class), lower graduation rates, extremely high attrition rates from science and engineering majors, substantial self-segregation on campus, lower self-esteem and far greater difficulty passing licensing tests (such as bar exams for lawyers).

The most encouraging part of this research is the parallel finding that these same students have dramatically better outcomes if they go to schools where their level of academic preparation is much closer to that of the median student. That is, black and Hispanic students—as well as the smaller numbers of preferentially admitted athletes and children of donors—excel when they avoid the problem of what has come to be called "mismatch."

Would the same be true of the minority children who are attending New York’s most prestigious private schools?

Unfortunately, the New York public school system is so bad that one hesitates to speculate.


Dragon Lady said...

I have three kids at one of those schools. The first thing I learned was that black children from wealthy homes -- of which there are a significant handful -- run the fastest from poor black kids who come out of the "prep for prep" programs.
Nevertheless, and despite my dislike for affirmative action in general, I agree with the admissions officer at my kids's school, who told me about the painful conversations she has with poor parents of bright black and hispanic kids, who are admitted and given full financial aid, and who often come out of special preparatory programs that leave them well prepared for math, Latin, etc. The mothers sit in her office and say, "How can I send my kid here? He will be so out of place." Her response is, "How can you deny him this amazing education? He will learn to get over his social discomfort. And he will have an amazing leg up in life." Surely social discomfort isn't too big a price for a superior education.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you for your comment... I very much like your moniker.

If it were merely a question of social discomfort I would lean toward your position. As I understand the stories told in the Times, we are well beyond discomfort: we are talking about children who are systematically shunned in school and who no longer feel that they are part of their home communities.

I believe that we are at the level of serious psychological damage.

The second point is: in all likelihood they are getting a better education than they would in local NYT schools... because so many of them are appallingly bad... but when you examine the reports about affirmative action in colleges and universities, reported in the Sander and Taylor article, it seems that students who are mismatched receive an education that is inferior to the one they would receive if they found a school that was better suited to their aptitude and achievement.

These studies can establish a principle, but I suspect that, given the alternatives in NY, the situation is not as cut and dried.

Dragon Lady said...

I've read the recent studies about college, and I understand and agree that the "mismatch" quotient is debilitating over the long term. But that is because not being able to do the work is a real and serious reason to feel out of place, and unworthy. (Although it did not seem to affect Potus or Flotus in their academic careers.) The stakes in college are just so much higher, when it comes to your ability to master material, and how that will push you from a 'harder' to a softer field.
High school is a different matter altogether. This education is foundation for those later choices. It includes exposure to things that mediocre at best public schools (and the far worse ones that actual NYC poor minority kids will attend) do not offer, from languages and advanced science, to a disciplined approach to the arts, to emphasis on analytic reading and, most important of all -- analytic writing -- which presupposes rigorous thinking and close reading. A minority child who has those skills has tools that make a a significant difference in college and beyond.
Furthermore, the black and hispanic students coming through Prep for Prep, tend to be genuinely intelligent. They are not necessarily "mismatched." I don't know for sure, but I would guess that, (with exceptions) their IQs are at the mean for the school. Not, to be sure, at the high end. But ... these days that position is reserved mostly for Asian males. (Who, amusingly enough, count in the diversity statistics -- or you can't get to 30%.)
The real issue, which this article cannot address, is that NYC is now a city divided between what it calls the hyperrich, and the poor. Those of us who are truly middle class (on incomes that are Upper Middle Class, which the current Administration thinks of as "millionaires,),are a dying minority. Housing costs alone, ensure that. The failure of the public schools -- and the fact that places like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science are so much more competitive than they used to be, ensure that as well. So it is true that many of my childrens' friends have multiple homes, drivers, cooks, endlessly fabulous vacations, and no conflict about paying for school and/or $10,000/summer camps and programs. Mostly, though their friends have two hardworking, professional parents, who do really well, but do not have endless money.
My smart, white kids are among those who do not have all that. Sometimes they understand that they are getting a great education at a school they love. As they get older they also understand that everyone has problems. Even the children of very nice billionaires. Yes, this sometimes makes them unhappy. But it also forces them to think about they kinds of lives they want to lead, and what they regard as truly important. On a good day, I think it allows the values I have tried to inculcate to manifest. Anyway, better for them to know that life is not fair, and they will have to work harder than some people. I believe that is a useful lesson also, for talented minority kids who are, in fact, being given the tools to succeed if they are so inclined. Surely it's a better lesson than pretending that everyone is the same, and leveling all fields.

Some other day we can discuss the pernicious influence of all that money on life in NY in general. Or, all the ways these school are crazily conflicted about how to merge excellence and diversity.

Thanks for your always interesting blog.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I thank you for continuing the discussion, addressing points that I overlooked in my first post.

Clearly, a central issue is the fact, as you note, that NY is increasingly divided between the hyperrich and the poor. Everyone else has moved to the suburbs, where schools are better than NY public schools and where most of the children are on the same level.

Unfortunately, with a few exceptions NY does not have very much offer between top-notch private schools and abysmally bad public schools.

I assume that children who are not hyperrich can fit in fairly well with the hyperrich, who, as you say, have their own problems.

I was really trying to emphasize the importance of socializing, of feeling like a part of the group. I suspect that upper middle class children who are not fabulously wealthy feel like they belong to their schools in ways that the poor children do not.

As for academic achievement, the gap between the SAT scores of Asian children and minority children is cavernous; similarly, between white children and minority children.

Putting minority children in mismatched universities where they cannot hope to keep does not do them a service. Ultimately, it prevents them from achieving because they are simply too far behind.

How this translates into socialization in these universities... I am not very familiar with the data, but I suspect that the students self-segregate in roughly the same way they do in the private schools.

Sam L. said...

"Why did no one understand this before? Are the school administrators so oblivious to human reality that they did not understand that children from grossly disparate backgrounds, having nothing in common, were not going to become best friends? Worse yet, they were not even going to get along."


This is re-education camp time.

Anti Money Laundering said...

I think it should always start at home. It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.