Hey, there! Log in / Register

Federal appeals court once again tosses lawsuit over exam-school admissions policy aimed at increasing Black and Latino enrollment

A federal appeals court yesterday rejected, again, a bid to block Boston Public Schools from changing its previous grades-and-test-score criteria for admissions to Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy and the O'Bryant School.

A group of mostly White parents calling themselves the Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence had argued the new plan as racially biased because it reduced the percentage of White and Asian-American students at the three schools.

But in its second ruling on the matter, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston basically said the parents had it backward: That because the new system, which included Zip codes as a criterion, worked as planned, it actually reduced racial disparity at the schools by increasing the number of Black and Latino students, who had long made up a smaller percentage of enrollment than their overall numbers in BPS and the city as a whole.

[T]he Coalition offers no evidence that geography, family income, and GPA were in any way unreasonable or invalid as selection criteria for public-school admissions programs.

And to allow the old racial/ethnic percentages to prevail would only invite yet another lawsuit, this time from Black and Latino parents, because they could show that the system was gamed against them, the court said.

It continued that even in its recent Harvard admissions affirmative-action decision, six of the justices - including three in the majority - said that schools could craft admissions policies aimed at ending racial disparities that did not involve specific questions related to an individual student's race.

Justice Gorsuch, and indeed plaintiff Students for Fair Admissions itself, identified use of socio-economic status indicators -- i.e., family income -- as a tool for universities who "sought" to increase racial diversity.

The court also dismissed what it called some statistical "sleight of hand" that the Boston group's attorneys used in their arguments:

The Coalition contends that the Plan, even when measured against a process of random selection, had a disparate impact on White and Asian applicants. To make this argument, the Coalition first notes that the overall acceptance rate for applicants for the 2021–2022 school year was 58.5%. And it posits that a random distribution would result in an even application of that 58.5% rate across each zip code. The Coalition then isolates certain zip codes where the population was either "predominantly" (as in 55% or greater) White/Asian or Black/Latinx, and juxtaposes those zip codes' respective acceptance rates under the Plan with those under a hypothetical 58.5% comparator. Following this logic, the Coalition concludes that the Plan resulted in 66 fewer than expected spots allocated across ten predominantly White/Asian zip codes, and 57 more spots across seven predominantly Black/Latinx zip codes. Using this same data, the Coalition also argues that because the average GPA of the admitted students from the predominantly White/Asian zip codes was higher than that from the predominantly Black/Latinx zip codes, the Plan made it disproportionally more difficult for White and Asian students to gain acceptance.

In our view, this backfilled analysis -- crafted by counsel in an appellate brief -- falls woefully short of the mark. The analysis uses GPA data from only ten of the twenty zip codes that the Coalition identifies as "predominantly" White and Asian. It also neglects another two zip codes where, ostensibly, there was neither a predominantly White/Asian nor Black/Latinx population under the Coalition's definition. And all the while, the Coalition never explains why 55% should be the relevant threshold, nor why aggregating populations of separate racial groups is methodologically coherent.

Moreover, the Coalition's analysis rests on a sleight of hand. It counterfactually assumes that if White/Asian students comprised 55% or more of the students in a given zip code, then every marginal student in that zip code who just missed out on acceptance was also White or Asian. Suffice it to say, there is zero evidence for this assumption. The bottom line remains the same: White and Asian students respectively made up approximately 16% and 7% of the eligible school-age population and 31% and 40% of the successful applicants. Use of the Plan caused no relevant disparate impact on those groups.

Yes, but what about the fact that three of the seven members of the School Committee let their inner racists out - the committee chairman mocking Chinese names, the two Hispanic members snorting in texts about "Westie Whites?"

The court allowed as how all that was quite reprehensible, but:

We recognize that the text messages evince animus toward those White parents who opposed the Plan. But the district court supportably found as fact that the added element of animus played no causal role that was not fully and sufficiently played by the motive of reducing the under-representation of Black and
Latinx students.

Neighborhoods: 
Topics: 
AttachmentSize
PDF icon Complete ruling155.37 KB


Ad:


Like the job UHub is doing? Consider a contribution. Thanks!

Comments

This lawsuit appears to be based upon a specific group of West Roxbury Residents but I don't understand why BPS doesn't try and expand seats at the exam schools that are one of the few parts of their system that are successful to allow more students to get in?

And I wonder how this is going to impact specific schools enrollment in the tiers where there has been a drop in students getting seats at the exam schools?

up
Voting closed 2

Applications to exam schools have dropped really low. However, the proposed move of the O'Bryant to the West Roxbury facility is with the intent of providing the additional seats you reference. Scarcity of exam school seats has never made sense.

up
Voting closed 1

BPS calling every school an "exam school" won't improve the schools.

up
Voting closed 2

The success of the exam schools is a self fulfilling prophecy. If a school only admits students who perform well in school and on standardized exams the school will graduate students who do the same (I say this as a graduate of an exam school). Admitting more students would mean admitting those who perform worse on both metrics which will inevitably produce graduates (or non-graduates) who also perform worse.

To be clear I'm all for what you're proposing - but let's understand what it would be: a massive shift away from tracking and towards an inclusive high school model. Those who insist on evaluating schools on student performance while ignoring important demographic information - like poverty rates - won't be happy with the result.

up
Voting closed 1

They skimmed the cream of test-takers out of the public and parochial schools and rode on the kids' laurels for years.

Truth is there have been some lazy teachers in those schools, who used the "swim or sink" ethic to justify not working to engage their students. There's been a lot of untoward drama at Latin in recent years too.

For a lot of smart kids, better off in a neighborhood HS, English, or a HS like Snowden or Arts and graduating as a valedictorian or near.

Harvard does admit kids from those other schools.

The zip code system isn't bad as long as it's fairly apportioned for school age population.

up
Voting closed 2

@Deselby - You aren't wrong.

Boston Latin School has a really healthy endowment to fund programs while most Boston Public Schools struggle to fund things like music, world langauge and sports. There are good neighborhood high schools as you point out. I am currently eying the Pilot BPS -New Mission school which has done very well in many areas including graduation and college acceptance rates ( through extra help including Saturday school and summer school) and also provides HS kids the chance to take college level classes in partnership with a few of the local Boston colleges.

Latin gives 2-3 hours of homework per night which is too much for many kids but does train kids to do well in college. The Latin they teach kids also supposedly is really helpful....my current boss went to BLS a long time ago and says he learned a ton from the school.

Overall BPS has not provided the average student a good education and the exam schools are contributing to that trend by excluding students that test at a level that they should get a spot.

up
Voting closed 1

Drugs and get shot by their Dean. But other than that English and BLS pretty much exactly the same. Laughable.

up
Voting closed 2

Is it just me or do most BLS grads here on uhub come across as insufferable babies?

up
Voting closed 1

The peanut gallery comments from the Too Stupid To Get Into Latin crowd.

Cry harder child.

We protect Latin and the other exam schools because we know it gives children from all Boston neighborhoods a chance to work up the social and economic ladder.

The collars in my house growing up were a stained blue and pink. My collar is now white because of the opportunities and hard work which was put into our education.

Those of you who have moved here from small towns and nice little wealthy suburbs (like the mayor) will never understand what this means because you had it. We didn't. That's why we protect the Exam schools.

Besides, a lot of you are childless and alone so you wouldn't understand anyway.

Have a terrible day.

up
Voting closed 2

Right on cue.

up
Voting closed 3

Um, you cued it up.

See?

Then again, like I said, Too Stupid To Get Into Latin.

up
Voting closed 4

Too Stupid To Get Into Latin.

Um, you cued queued it up.

up
Voting closed 2

Cue - a thing said or done that serves as a signal to an actor or other performer to enter or to begin their speech or performance.

Do Re Mi Fa You Should Stick To The Dots Oboeboy.

up
Voting closed 3

.

up
Voting closed 4

Those of you who have moved here from small towns and nice little wealthy suburbs (like the mayor) will never understand what this means because you had it.

You seem to feel that small towns have good schools for some unspecified reason. From what I can see in the Commonwealth today, I'd say rather that small towns are under-resourced. Where do "exam schools" even exist outside of Boston?

up
Voting closed 3

Methinks you haven’t been paying attention to what is going on with a lot of the “voke tech” schools in the Commonwealth.

It’s a shame as well.

up
Voting closed 2

Are you saying there's some kind of equivalence between the exam schools and vocational schools? If you are, please explain it.

up
Voting closed 2

Methinks you haven’t been paying attention to what is going on with a lot of the “voke tech” schools in the Commonwealth.

Methinks you may not know what a "voke tech" school is.

up
Voting closed 3

Of exam schools and regular public schools when they get to UMass, frankly I'm not impressed by the Boston exam schools.

Granted because it's UMass we aren't getting the top students from either cohort, but still. They're not better prepared or more engaged than students from non-exam schools.

up
Voting closed 2

Our BLS grad went to UMass and found many of the classes there fairly easy in part because of the educational training she got here.

up
Voting closed 3

For the most part, I kept a B average (sort of on the ledge between B- and B, with a good junior year boosting it), but there were a lot more kids leaving the exam schools because of the rigor of the work - some of them getting asked to leave for keeping absymal averages, others for weeks of absenteeism, and others simply because they just couldn't keep up with the hours of homework given to them. Once they left the exam school system, they thrived at other schools.

Had I gone elsewhere, my B average would have been an A because the rigor wasn't there.

up
Voting closed 3

That the exam schools - especially BLS - have hurt more than they've helped.

First, there is the attrition rate. Wasn't it two-thirds from the seventh to the 12th grade?

Caveat in that I don't know if it's continued to be that high.

But it's possible that the attrition is built-in, in that the building could not accommodate everyone admitted to the seventh grade if they went on to graduate.

And what happens to the kids that drop out? That has to be a psychological blow.

Second, the work, the competition, and the sometimes-indifferent teachers and administration have discouraged and burned out a lot of those who graduate, too.

up
Voting closed 2

I don't know how accurate the stories were, but the claimed attrition rate, back in the more Darwinian days, was 1/3. They would say to a new class assembled, look to your left, look to your right, one of them won't be here when you graduate. But whether that was ever accurate is unlikely, and it certainly isn't in the current era. The school is academically rigorous, but it also is very supportive. And so much more is understood about learning disabilities today, that they are able to accommodate multiple learning styles.

up
Voting closed 3

Class of ‘96 here. I graduated in the bottom third of my class and I wouldn’t really describe a lot of people there as “supportive.” I had a lot going on and could have used support, but the attitude was pretty much “you do the work or you sink to the bottom of the ocean and you go to a terrible college and your life lays before you in fiery ruins because you didn’t carry your weight, 16-year-old, you didn’t carry the responsibility of knowing that the grades you get in this school set the pace for how the rest of your life is going to go, so you better achieve and achieve highly, or it’s a lifetime of dreams where you’re back in high school for you, loser.” I actually ended up doing pretty well career-wise, I stopped working because I have MS. Some teachers were more supportive than others: it was a crapshoot. At the end of the day, nobody does the work but you. If you can cut the mustard, you make it to graduation. If it’s not for you, it’s not for you. I’m glad that I stuck it out because I made amazing, lifelong friends from all over the city while I was there.

up
Voting closed 4

At the highest level of academic performance, there has to be performance-based selection. Some students are just ahead of the curve and it is a cruel waste of their talent to deprive them of the opportunity to excel. It also deprives society of the best and brightest, reaching their potential as early as possible. Some people don't hit their stride until they are older, more experienced or finally in the right environment. We can play make up for them, just as the military academies do. Where does it end? Will we have people doing medical research because they come from the right zip code. That's the ultimate risk of a quota system in disguise. It is also unfair to brilliant minority early achievers, who are now looked upon with suspicion by people with the nagging doubt about whether they qualified based on their own merit. Ramming this system down the throats of people will produce the final chapter in the abandonment of Boston Public Schools, if not the City, which began with the busing which was implemented by Saint Arthur of Wellesley. He was beloved by the guilt-ridden suburban liberals whose own children were never used as pawns.

up
Voting closed 2

Memorizing vocabulary at 10-12 through these private "test prep" tutoring schools is not the mark of a "genius", but of parents who can afford to send their kids there. I wouldn't call middle school the highest echelon of education either... Now I agree we're failing our kids, but blindly supporting the status quo due to your own racial grievences really isn't helping, and it's transparent to anyone reading your comment that that's exactly what's motivating you here.

up
Voting closed 2

literally have a zip-code system, in that seats are distributed by congressional district and state, along with other set-asides for active-duty applicants. They also consider race, etc because the force is diverse.

up
Voting closed 3

The Supreme Court specifically stated the military and its academies are outliers when it comes to diversity and quotas and race and age and all sorts of things. As far as the Courts are concerned, the military could probably even revert back to it's no-gay policy if the Executive and Legislative branches wanted that.

The real elephant in the room when it comes to schools and race is METCO. How does that still exist?

up
Voting closed 2

At the highest level of academic performance, there has to be performance-based selection.

This assertion rests on several premises that are tenuous at best. First, what determines "the highest level of academic performance", and how do you measure it? Second, is society best served by devoting disproportionate resources to such education, or would those resources be better spent on improving education more broadly? Finally, is it valid to say that the best education is obtained by skimming the "top" as determined by whatever your measure of "highest level of academic performance" is (assuming that is valid, and that's a generous assumption)? It may seem intuitive that competitive academic institutions should take the top testers only, but their purpose is to educate, not to produce a crop of truly excellent test-takers. If you have a pool of a thousand candidates, and ten seats, do you automatically take the candidates with the top ten test scores? Or should you use other criteria to determine which of the thousand candidates can do the academic work, and then look more broadly at those as your potential students?

ETA: I think it's also worth questioning the use of the word "competitive". Why is education a competition?

up
Voting closed 1

BPS has a resource issue. They only spend $33k per student, which continues to increase every year while the results continue to decline. I’ll also note that the $33k is a national high too. Great thought to take resources from a school that’s actually succeeding.

up
Voting closed 3

"What determines "the highest level of academic performance', and how do you measure it?"

It's obvious how to measure it. Schools have been doing this for hundreds of years. Throwing out measurement of academic performance is ridiculous, especially when the only reason you propose for doing so is a rhetorical question.

"Is society best served by devoting disproportionate resources to such education?"

Yes. Allowing smart kids to develop their full potential is one of the best things we can do with tax money. Especially for kids whose families can't afford private school or a house in Newton or Lexington.

"Is it valid to say that the best education is obtained by skimming the 'top'?"

Yes. The alternative is forcing smart, motivated kids to waste their prime learning years in a classroom where the teacher devotes the majority of efforts to remedial work and discipline issues for the kids who don't even want to be there.

up
Voting closed 2

Why should Black and Latino students be made to feel they are not as smart as White or Asian kids because of lack of model education that takes time to actually bring out brain power confidemce andbpotential n each Black and Latino child when they are younger so they too can propel into elite schools for successful careers and wealth? KIDS ARE SMART.

up
Voting closed 3

The zip code system is incredibly stupid. It's a poorly disguised attempt to pretend they're ensuring economic diversity, when the obvious intent is to punish White people in West Roxbury. The racist texts by School Committee certainly are relevant, and the court should be ashamed for declaring they don't matter because the overall scheme supposedly is a good idea.

Unintended negative consequences include unfairly excluding kids from poor sections of rich zip codes, like Chinatown and the Charlestown projects.

If they wanted preference by income, census tracts would have been better. Or asking for the family's tax return if they wanted an income preference.

Picking at the details of the plaintiff's analysis is disingenuous. The same exact thing could easily be done for the School Committee's zip code scheme. Zip codes have tens of thousands of people, and each of them necessarily aggregates groups of different races and incomes.

up
Voting closed 1

How many members of the School Committee who voted for this system attended one of the exam schools?

up
Voting closed 1