Diversity Is First Casualty In New York’s Academic Meritocracy

The United States typically has a less competitive high school system than some other developed countries. Most students attend the high school to which they are assigned and go through the motions, paying little attention to their high school’s ranking or what the implications of attending are for their future admission to elite colleges. The main exception to this system has traditionally been the elite boarding schools that have been populated by the scions of dynastic wealth and power. The Bushes, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts of eras past often bypassed the public school system entirely. For their efforts, they were virtually ensured a spot in the classrooms of Harvard, Dartmouth or MIT.


However, New York long ago created its own version of an elite boarding school. Rather than a live-in, exclusive campus somewhere in the leafy countryside, these technical high schools appear as any other in the city. The only difference is that the students who wish to attend are required to take a test of academic merit that some say rivals those of the most exclusive boarding schools in the country. To get into one of New York’s eight elite high schools, you have to be incredibly smart.


But in recent years, this has led to serious problems. An influx of East Asians into the city has caused the elite high schools to become dominated by students of Asian descent. Since the admissions process is uniquely and purely meritocratic, the reader might be tempted to ask what the big deal is. The problem comes when we consider that these elite schools, like elite universities throughout the country, have only a limited number of seats. When an Asian is awarded a spot in one of these schools, that is one less spot for the diverse, like blacks and Latinos.


This has led some to denounce the merit-based test as unfair. After all, such wild disparities cannot be fair if they create huge disadvantages for certain minorities. But others counter that the test is perfectly and objectively fair, by definition. It could not be otherwise.


Still, some administrators claim the process is racist and in order to combat it, racial quotas may need to be instituted.