Bryan Caplan  

How Much AA at TJ?

Taste for Variety... Those Silly French...

U.S. News and World Report says that Northern Virginia's Thomas Jefferson (TJ) is the best public high school in the country. Here's a neat paper by Lloyd Cohen of the GMU Law School estimating the extent of AA (or as he calls it "invidious discrimination in admissions") going on at TJ.

Cohen took full advantage of the Freedom of Information Act to collect an amazingly revealing data set. TJ begins the admissions process by ranking students from #1 to around #800 using test scores and GPA. They then have a fuzzier process to decide the 400 best students to admit out of the finalists.

The estimated admissions probabilities for students ranked #300 or better are always above 90%, regardless of race and gender. But wide disparities open up for students with lower rankings:
Cohen interprets this as clear evidence of massive discrimination in favor of black students, and in terms of statistical significance, he's right. However, the magnitude of this effect is small: Only ten black students were admitted, and four of these were in the top half of the distribution. Thus, AA at TJ displaced roughly six non-black students out of 400.

What Cohen strangely does not emphasize is that gender discrimination probably had a larger effect. Yes, it is less statistically significant. But since 43% of the finalists were female, moderate gender-based AA matters. Consider: Women ranked around #400-500 were about 7 percentage-points more likely to be accepted than men. Evening out the conditional acceptance rates for these centiles alone would give males roughly another 6 slots.

TJ's reaction to Cohen's work is hysterical, but expected:

Last month, the Student Government Association invited Cohen to present his findings.

Principal Elizabeth V. Lodal canceled the event. "How could any educator approve of allowing a situation where a group of their students would be publicly demeaned?"

No wonder Cohen had to use the FOIA to get the facts. When people interpret critical questions as personal insults, it's awfully hard to have a conversation.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (8 to date)
Matt writes:

They draw froma wide geographical area and draw the best students. According to Cohen, it is this wide draw that allows them to choose the best. And, Cohen readily admits, it is the students, and the choosing of them that makes this high school the best, not teachers, not money, not the community school thing.

So, though they mey be discriminatory, they do pick well, and that is all they do, pick well, so I am not going to fault them too badly.

Fazal Majid writes:

FOIA? Most universities proudly proclaim their "diversity" policies in their promotional material.

The stat that is nearly impossible to find, however, is the breakdown by applicants' families' income or wealth.

Perhaps because the dirty secret of most diversity programs is that they allow rich white alumni to salve their consciences by displacing poor white kids to make extra room for middle-class black kids. That hardly counts as diversity.

george writes:

Diversity seems to triumph merit, liberty, or any of the previous virtues we have championed. Where will it lead?

dearieme writes:

Hysterical woman having the vapours. Pah!

Don Lloyd writes:

It's hard to make a case for criticising any admissions method or outcome that they choose to use. No student has an inherent right to admission.

Regards, Don

Has anyone dared to prepare such a table pertaining to subprime mortgage foreclosures?

LemmusLemmus writes:

If I am not mistaken, the concept of statistical significance is meaningless if your data set is not a sample.

abe writes:

I'm from Northern Va, and we're all aware of TJ. Ever year that school churns kids with the highest average SAT score in any high school in the area, and the most of the students end up at UVA or better. But no wonder the students score so well on the SATs...the TJ admissions test is almost identical to the older version of the SATs (but appropriate for 8th graders.)

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