The search for “diversity” in Beverly HIlls used to work the way it usually does: recruiting blacks and Hispanics. Proposition 209 put an end to that, however, and now Beverly Hills High School has too many good Asian students.
In 1969, when nearly every student at Beverly Hills High School was white, school officials went looking for some help diversifying the campus. They found it in the polyglot Los Angeles school system that surrounds the tony, iconic city.
Under a system of “diversity permits,” the high school began enrolling scores of minority students from Los Angeles each year. For decades, the permit program aimed to bring in a deliberate mix of black, Latino and Asian students from outside the city limits.
Today, however, the vast majority of the students enrolled with diversity permits at Beverly Hills High are high-performing Asian students.
The dramatic shift stems from California’s stringent anti-affirmative action law, approved by voters in 1996. Concerned with running afoul of the sweeping ban, Beverly Hills school officials have followed what amounts to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on the diversity permits. Students who apply are not allowed to identify their race or ethnicity.
The program has become as competitive as the Ivy League, with about 8% of the students who applied last year being accepted. Critics say the program has shifted by default from a program aimed at increasing racial and ethnic diversity to one that simply brings smart, well-rounded students into the district.
Of course, If BHHS doesn’t want so many high-performing, smart, well-rounded students, nothing is stopping it from changing its admissions criteria. It could easily look for less high-performing, smart, well rounded students. It could, for example, set a low threshold and choose by lottery from all those who meet the minimum requirement.
But wait. If Asian students apply in highly disproportionate numbers, that might not help. Oh well, I’m sure some of the surplus high-performing, smart, well-rounded students they have now could help the hapless administrators figure out a way to select fewer high-performing, smart, well-rounded students from Los Angeles.
UPDATE [9 April]
In an editorial the Los Angeles Times laments that “108 of the 159 Los Angeles students attending Beverly Hills High on this program are Asian, while 19 are black and 16 are Latino.”
Those Asians presumably don’t provide the white students at Beverly Hills High with enough “diversity,” the poor, deprived dears. You may think I exaggerate when I suggest that the LAT’s view of civil rights makes victims out of the rich, white students at BHHS, but if so you’re behind the times, or at least the LA Times, which asks, in response to those lamentable numbers:
“So what?” one might ask. Wasn’t the purpose of Proposition 209 to force the state and public schools to operate in a “color-blind” fashion? The problem, of course, is that in a racially polarized society, color-blindness can have the effect of perpetuating racial isolation, not breaking it down.
The LAT doesn’t deign to explain why or how, in “a racially polarized society,” rewarding some and punishing others because of their race alone won’t inevitably and predictably exacerbate racial conflict, but leave that aside. What’s really interesting here is the idea that the touchstone of civil rights is eliminating “racial isolation.”
The LAT also doesn’t say, of course, what “racial isolation” is or how much of it is too much. Would the “racial isolation” of BHHS, with over 2300 students, be cured if all 159 “diversity permit” transferees had been black and Hispanic? But wait! What if 100 had been black and only 59 Hispanic? And what if 56 of the 59 Hispanics were of Mexican descent, and only 3 from Latin American backgrounds? And don’t forget the Hmong; there are no doubt some Hmong among the students now enrolled in Los Angeles Unified schools who would dearly love to provide some diversity somewhere. Finally, who should decide these issues? Do the editors of the Los Angeles Times really have the time (leave aside the ability) to make these decisions for schools in Los Angeles or Beverly Hills?
But why should the principle of eradicating “racial isolation” stop at the schoolhouse door? Surely there are many residential communities in the Los Angeles area (Beverly Hills no doubt being one of them) suffering from the same kind of “racial isolation” that so offends the LAT editors, not to mention workers injured every day by being part of “racially isolated” work forces. True, civil rights policy as traditionally understood requires only an absence of discrimination; it does not command, or at least has not commanded, that the state regulate all racial markets to produce a desired racial/ethnic mix.
If the LAT in its wisdom is convinced that the colorblind racial equality required by Prop. 209 has done so much “damage” to California, it should have the courage of its convictions and recommend that “racial isolation” be remedied by state-imposed “race-conscious” solutions everywhere it appears.
UPDATE II [13 April]
In my original post I wrote:
Of course, if BHHS doesn’t want so many high-performing, smart, well-rounded students, nothing is stopping it from changing its admissions criteria. It could easily look for less high-performing, smart, well rounded students. It could, for example, set a low threshold and choose by lottery from all those who meet the minimum requirement.
But now look: after criticism from minority activists, Beverly Hills Unified School District Supt. Kari McVeigh has announced a change in how “diversity permits” will be awarded:
Until this year, selections had been based on, among other factors, test scores, grades and writing samples. Going forward, however, McVeigh said school officials will choose randomly from students who complete applications.
Assuming a sufficient number of students other than high-performing, smart, well-rounded Asians can be persuaded to apply, the new random selection policy should work to reduce the number of unwanted high-performing, smart, well-rounded Asians who are allowed to transfer to BHHS.