ANALYSIS: Following higher ed’s lead, K-12 schools deny Asian students’ achievement

Both colleges and K-12 schools have tried to deny that Asians are a minority in order to falsely exaggerate the achievement gap between white students and students of color.

Two public high schools who have a majority Asian student body may end merit-based admissions and move to a lottery system in an attempt to diversify the school.

The University of Maryland recently landed in hot water for separating its Asian students from students of color in a presentation about SAT scores and grade point averages of the incoming freshmen class. 

Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Chris Rufo posted an image last month of a presentation reportedly delivered by university president Darryll Pines, which separated the average scores and GPAs into two categories: “students of color, minus Asians” and “white or Asian students.”

This strange categorization is only the latest way higher education has whitewashed the contributions and achievements of Asian students. 

Higher education has systematically disadvantaged Asian applicants, particularly in college admissions. 

A study published by Princeton University researchers in 2004 found that the preference given to Black applicants in college admissions was “roughly equivalent” to 230 SAT points. Hispanic applicants were given a boost similar to 185 SAT points, and Asians were disadvantaged by 60 points. 

Similarly, a study released January 2021 by the Center for Equal Opportunity found anti-Asian bias in the admissions processes at major public universities dating back to the mid-2000s.

[RELATED: Ivy League schools accused of anti-Asian discrimination condemn anti-Asian hate]

Though colleges have a decades-long history of discriminating against Asian students, K-12 schools have followed suit in recent years with discriminatory policies of their own. 

When Asian students excel in merit-based admissions, some school districts have moved to change the admissions process in ways that would harm Asian students’ chances. 

San Francisco’s Lowell High School is a top-performing public magnet school that has operated on a merit-based admissions system. Now, SFUSD is changing its admissions process to a lottery system, where students are selected by chance instead of by merit. 

As William McGurn wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Lowell was 82% minority when the school board first attacked its admissions. But because these students were predominantly Asian-American, they don’t count in the progressive diversity calculus.”

Likewise, parents in Fairfax County, Virginia, are debating if and how to change the admissions process at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a prestigious magnet school. 

Thomas Jefferson has historically used a holistic review process, including an admissions test, to evaluate students. Students were judged race-blind, until parents decided to overhaul the merit system in the name of equity. 

The Pacific Legal Foundation is suing the Fairfax County School Board on the grounds that it is illegally discriminating against Asian students. 

Last school year, Thomas Jefferson's student population was around 70 percent Asian, according to NBC News 4

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But erasing the success of Asian students does not always take the form of admissions discrimination. 

In November 2020, a school district in Washington state chose to imply that Asian students are not people of color, instead grouping them with white students in its “equity report.” 

As reported by Reason, North Thurston Public Schools in Washington state placed white and Asian students in one category and Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, and multiracial students in another to illustrate the academic achievement gap. 

Several statewide policies do not erase or redefine Asian students, but instead cut off opportunities for success that are disproportionately beneficial to them where they are more likely to succeed than other racial groups.

For instance, California is currently considering a “Mathematics Framework,” or a set of academic standards, that prioritizes “equity.” The framework could limit opportunities for talented students to take advanced math courses. 

Hundreds of mathematics professors issued an open letter advising California not to lower standards or cut off opportunities for students to take advanced math courses in the name of closing the achievement gap. 

Likewise, the Virginia Department of Education reportedly considered ending all advanced math courses prior to 11th grade, a claim that the DOE later retracted, according to Fox News. As in California, equity was the supposed reason for the proposed change. 

Data from the Department of Education shows that Asian students are far more likely to earn their most advanced math course credit in a calculus class. 

Cutting off advanced math courses would shrink opportunities for all, but the impact would be felt particularly by Asian students. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AngelaLMorabito