Politics & Policy

Failure of Proof

The elusive benefits of diversity.

·        Arithmetic

·        Reading

·        Spelling

·        Writing

·        Phonics

·        English

·        Penmanship

·        Algebra

·        Geometry

·        Trigonometry

·        Calculus

·        Biology

·        Physics

·        Anatomy

·        Geology

·        Economics

·        Geography

·        Speech

·        History

·        Archaeology

·        Anthropology

·        Religion

·        Health

·        Physical education

·        Home economics

·        Shop

These are subjects that may be found in a K-12 curriculum. Admittedly, the relevance of some of these categories may seem absurd; penmanship, shop, and physical education generally aren’t associated with critical-thinking skills.

But they’re not much more absurd than “promoting spirited classroom discussions” — a goal achievable without much critical thinking by virtually any 3rd-grade class, regardless of how diverse it may be. Nonetheless, the majority of the above categories inarguably measure critical-thinking skills. And such skills can be measured using generally accepted standards.

So, what was the response to the questions? The witnesses at the hearing, each an expert in the area and familiar with the extant literature on the subject, could cite only one study that suggests that racially diverse schools improved student performance as defined above. And that improvement pertains to just one of the 26 subjects listed above — spelling. But even that study is disputed. (There’s also some evidence of improvements, however negligible, in writing and geography.) This isn’t to suggest that there might not be some literature of which the witnesses were unaware or couldn’t readily recall — but rather, that the existence of unequivocal data widely acknowledged to support a finding of improved student performance is, at best, underwhelming.

A contention that something is a compelling state interest — on a par with national security — must be supported by more than disputed data or utopian presumptions. As one of the circuit-court judges in the Seattle case observed, “One would think that to be ‘compelling’ there would be no room for doubt of the need [for race-based student assignments].”

Exactly. Mere good intentions are insufficient to make mincemeat of the 14th Amendment.

 – Peter Kirsanow is a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He also is a member of the National Labor Relations Board. These comments do not necessarily represent the positions of either organization.

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