Study: race determines how one views meritocracy

14 Aug

Moi wrote about the intersection of race and class in education in Race, class, and education in America:
Many educators have long recognized that the impact of social class affects both education achievement and life chances after completion of education. There are two impacts from diversity, one is to broaden the life experience of the privileged and to raise the expectations of the disadvantaged. Social class matters in not only other societies, but this one as well.
A few years back, the New York Times did a series about social class in America. That series is still relevant. Janny Scott and David Leonhardt’s overview,Shadowy Lines That Still Divide describes the challenges faced by schools trying to overcome the disparity in education. The complete series can be found at Social Class

Rebecca Klein reported in the Huffington Post article, White People Support Academic Meritocracy When It Benefits Them, Study Suggests:

Do white people only support traditional definitions of meritocracy when it benefits them? A new study suggests so.
University of Miami professor Frank L. Samson looked at the idea of meritocracy through the lens of admissions standards in the University of California system. He found that white participants changed their ideas of what was meritocratic based on what benefitted white, as opposed to Asian-American, applicants.
After learning whites made up a majority of students at a school, half of the study’s participants were asked to evaluate the importance of academic achievement when they were assessing university applicants. The participants related that universities should place high value on an applicant’s standardized test scores and class rank.
Other study participants were told that Asian-Americans are disproportionately admitted to the school. These participants related that less weight should be placed on an applicant’s academics.
The study concludes that, “the shift to an Asian American plurality provoked a reaction that caused white evaluators to create an altered standard when weighing the academic merits of college applicants.”
These results come at a time when affirmative action — designed to further the opportunities of groups that have been historically discriminated against — is beinghotly debated. Some opponents of the practice argue that admissions should simply be based on concrete, meritocratic standards. However, as the study reveals, what is considered meritocratic to some may simply be based on what benefits the group with whom they most identify.


Altering Public University Admission Standards to Preserve White Group Position in the United States: Results from a Laboratory Experiment
Frank L. Samson
Comparative Education Review
Vol. 57, No. 3, Special Issue on Fair Access to Higher Education (August 2013), pp. 369-396
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Article Stable URL:

See, White People Think College Admissions Should Be Based on Test Scores, Except When They Learn Asians Score Better Than Whites

Scott Jaschick wrote in the Inside Higher Ed article, Meritocracy or Bias?

Frank L. Samson, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Miami, thinks his new research findings suggest that the definition of meritocracy used by white people is far more fluid than many would admit, and that this fluidity results in white people favoring certain policies (and groups) over others.
Specifically, he found, in a survey of white California adults, they generally favor admissions policies that place a high priority on high school grade-point averages and standardized test scores. But when these white people are focused on the success of Asian-American students, their views change.
The white adults in the survey were also divided into two groups. Half were simply asked to assign the importance they thought various criteria should have in the admissions system of the University of California. The other half received a different prompt, one that noted that Asian Americans make up more than twice as many undergraduates proportionally in the UC system as they do in the population of the state.
When informed of that fact, the white adults favor a reduced role for grade and test scores in admissions — apparently based on high achievement levels by Asian-American applicants. (Nationally, Asian average total scores on the three parts of the SAT best white average scores by 1,641 to 1,578 this year….)
Further, Samson said that key Supreme Court decisions have been framed as being about meritocracy when — if different groups had been involved — they might have been framed differently or not even been brought. For example, one of the most important recent rulings on affirmative action in employment came in 2009, when the Supreme Court ruled that officials in New Haven were wrong to throw out a promotion exam for firefighters after realizing that white candidates had done well and black candidates did not, on average, do as well. Those who sued, and the Supreme Court majority, said that the decision was about applying meritocratic standards.
But would the white firefighters have even sued, Samson said, “if Jews or Asians had taken the test and gotten higher scores?” In that case, he said, would everyone have endorsed the idea that the test was all that mattered?

People tend to cluster in neighborhoods based upon class as much as race. Good teachers tend to gravitate toward neighborhoods where they are paid well and students come from families who mirror their personal backgrounds and values. Good teachers make a difference in a child’s life. One of the difficulties in busing to achieve equity in education is that neighborhoods tend to be segregated by class as well as race. People often make sacrifices to move into neighborhoods they perceive mirror their values. That is why there must be good schools in all segments of the country and there must be good schools in all parts of this society. A good education should not depend upon one’s class or status.


U.S. Supreme Court to decide the affirmative action case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (Case No. 11-345)

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