Admission to the most selective colleges and universities in the United States is now the ultimate zero-sum game. It’s not just the bragging rights of parents or the shortcut to a prestigious and prosperous future. University admissions has also become one of the most controversial fronts in the culture war.

Disputes about affirmative action, inheritance preferences, favoring wealthy donors, full-pay applicants and politically connected applicants, and high school submissions of false information and exaggerated grades to increase applicants’ chances- Occurs with a frustrating pattern, Which reflects the importance of entering the highest ranked institution.

Of course, these problems reflect the general anxiety of parents. The middle and upper classes are particularly keenly aware of the dangers of downward mobility across generations, and are very worried about whether their children will be financially secure in adulthood.

The latest battleground in this university admissions culture war involves a trend away from standardized admissions exams. Critics accuse the campaign of abolishing the SAT and ACT for being misguided, it reflects the abandonment of the promise of objective value, and ultimately hurts those it intends to help.

This debate is inevitably reminiscent of the classic lines of Chico Marx Duck soup: “Who would you believe, me or your own eyes?”

The current debate is the University of California system’s decision in May to stop using standardized tests in undergraduate admissions and scholarship decisions.The counterattack came from Caitlin Flanagan of the Atlantic, Who thinks that policy changes:

  • “It may harm thousands of Asian American teenagers, with counterproductive consequences for blacks, Latinos, and low-income students, while it makes little difference for wealthy whites.”
  • “It will obscure many forces that invest in not improving K-12 education in the state, especially in the poorest areas.”

The claim of Atlantic’s article has not been answered. In a letter to the Washington Post, UC system accuses the author of making “baseless assertions and misleading generalizations”, including:

  • Inaccurately describes the UC system’s (recognizedly complex) admissions method, which distinguishes admission qualifications and admissions on specific campuses. Only UC Merced guarantees that all students who are technically eligible to enter the UC campus are admitted. Falsely implying that “SAT allows many disadvantaged students to be admitted to the University of California.” In 2018, the UC system identified 22,613 applicants (including 4,931 low-income earners and 5,704 first-generation applicants. They were eligible for admission mainly based on SAT scores, but only 168 took advantage of this opportunity. This controversy provides a The textbook example illustrates how the debater can speak.

The dispute has become a representative of the flashpoint in the current culture war:

  • Is the resistance to standardized tests part of a greater resistance to academic standards, strengths, and rigor?
  • Is the University of California’s policy just the latest manifestation of California’s historic discrimination against Asian Americans?

Flanagan of the Atlantic relies heavily on 2020 Senate Report of the University of California System think:

  • Highly unequal high school grading practices make high school GPA an unreliable admission standard.

Performance inflation is particularly pronounced in wealthier schools, which usually award higher grades.

  • The University of California campus has made up for the differences in SAT scores of different races and nationalities. And income groups.

Thanks to a comprehensive admissions review process, applicants from disadvantaged population groups are admitted at a higher rate on any given test score. The process evaluates the applicant’s academic achievement based on the opportunities available to them, taking into account each The applicant’s possible contribution to campus life.

  • The biggest barrier to entering the University of California campus is the lack of qualifications due to failure to complete all required courses with a grade of C or higher.

Approximately 25% of underrepresentation is due to this factor.

Article’s In turn, critics argued that That:

  • High school scores are just as useful for comparing students from different high schools as for comparing students from the same school, and can indeed strongly predict college readiness.
  • The University of California campus failed to fully bridge the gap in SAT scores.
  • Although SAT scores do (moderately) predict the grades of first-year students, it is likely that the favorable background of high scorers makes it easier for them to adjust to college life, leading to higher freshman grades.

Just like many debates in today’s highly polarized and politicized society, there is an astonishing degree of consensus under the surface of controversial disputes. people usually think that:

  • K-12 students are largely and unforgivably segregated by class, race, and ethnicity. The resources of their schools are highly unequal, and admission decisions should take these inequalities into consideration.
  • The admissions process should balance various goals, admit not only the most academically prepared students, but also the most promising students, while facilitating upward economic mobility, eliminating inequalities, and fostering graduates that reflect the diversity of a particular state.

Given this consensus, what should be done?

Obviously, California needs to do more to ensure that every child can attend high-quality schools. In addition to ensuring fair funding and expanding access to experienced teachers with a successful track record, other measures may include providing decentralized housing for low-income families and expanding access to high-performance schools, whether by removing enrollment restrictions or establishing admissions Draw lots or establish magnet schools and pioneer schools.

It also makes sense to give class rankings more weight in college admissions. This should help alleviate concerns about performance inflation, enroll students more actively in low-income schools, and establish bridge programs, after-school programs, and special colleges to expand Opportunities for underrepresented students.

Jesse RossteinThe Professor of Public Policy and Economics at the University of California, Berkeley provided some other common sense advice. If California really takes education equity seriously, it will increase funding for less selective institutions, including community colleges that serve most students of color and low-income backgrounds, and significantly expand the enrollment of selective colleges.

Rothstein also favors an approach similar to the Texas Top Ten Percentage Program, which guarantees top-ranked students in high school classes to enter the state’s flagship campus, regardless of their standardized test scores. The Texas plan did increase the enrollment, graduation, and income of students from schools that had rarely sent students to the University of Texas at Austin. It also did not reduce the college enrollment rate, graduation rate or income of top students outside of traditional branch schools.

However, due to the high total cost of attendance and the belief that flagship campuses are unpopular, the number of Texas students from rural and low-income communities is still small.

Let us not allow political polarization to obscure the issues that are truly at risk:

  • Access to high-quality K-12 education is unfair.
  • The high school counseling and support structure is inadequate to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds successfully enter elite universities.
  • There are unequal learning opportunities for the courses required to enter highly selective institutions.
  • Transfer barriers have caused too many students starting from community colleges to lose credits and academic motivation when they transfer to 4-year campuses.
  • High non-academic costs, coupled with insufficient financial aid, prevent low-income students from entering highly selective public institutions.

I am increasingly shocked by the way American society treats many policy disputes and court cases as moral drama: as an arena for almost unknown class and racial tensions.

Viewing college admissions as the front line of the culture war may be psychologically satisfying. But if we really want to ensure that higher education is actually the engine of upward mobility, then let us build on the consensus that actually exists and take practical steps to expand opportunities and opportunities.

Steven Mintz is a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin.

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