The Essence of a Meritocracy*

The Essence of a Meritocracy

It’s about our children … your kids, Marty. Something’s got to be done about them (paying respects to Back to the Future, Part II).

Meritocracy has defined America’s success. It’s been the cornerstone of the American Dream. In order for America to be America, the system must reward the hardest-workers who achieve the most.

According to Merriam-Webster, a “meritocracy” is “a system in which the talented are chosen and move ahead on the basis of their achievement.”

Success in realizing the American Dream, especially in the 20th Century, often was attributable to academic achievement which, in turn, was based on America’s superior educational system. It was widely understood to be the best in the world. Many of America’s hardest-working, highest-achieving workers became successful because of the quality of America’s teachers and curricula.

But that’s been changing. So have America’s demographics.

A disproportionate number of the highest achievers in American classrooms today are members of a single racial group. America’s educational meritocracy now is rewarding that one group and, some have argued that by so doing, America is freezing out other racial and national groups from access to the American Dream. What if the one favored group happened to be Black? Or Hispanic? Or Caucasian? Or Asian-American? Or Jewish? Or Muslim? Or Japanese? What if the frozen-out group included Blacks? Or Hispanics? Or Caucasians? Or Asian-Americans? Or Jews? Or Muslims? Or Japanese? What difference would/should that make … if any? Would that be a problem that requires some sort of equalization mechanism that would de-weight pure merit … or would it be a facet of American exceptionalism, American diversity, that would further cement America’s greatness? In short, would that disparity be a function of racism … or of merit?

New York’s Mayor Bill De Blasio and his School Chancellor, Richard Carranza, say it’s racism. And that New York City’s educational system has to change to properly reflect its demographics … and not the merit of its students.

Blacks and Latinos make up ~70{29ea29b64b10057f61377b2c087cd5b7537a0cd24da4295a308b0bf589469f35} of New York City’s public high school students … and yet they comprise only 10{29ea29b64b10057f61377b2c087cd5b7537a0cd24da4295a308b0bf589469f35} of students at New York City’s eight elite public high schools. Only 7 black students received offers to attend Stuyvesant High School, the most selective of those elite schools … out of 895 seats. More than half of the offers at Stuyvesant went to Asian-American students.

Admissions to New York City’s elite high schools are based on a single, standardized, merit-based test that New York City, in an agreement with federal civil rights authorities in 1977, agreed would be used to select students … because, in doing so, the use of that merit-based exam would eliminate what was then New York City’s racially-segregated selection system though it did not address New York City’s functionally-racially-segregated school system itself. The result is that New York City’s selection process relies on an exam specifically designed to reward merit … and eliminate reduce racism. A 1977 New York Times article reported that New York City “acknowledged that there is an irreconcilable conflict between academic selectivity and admission by quotas that are aimed at insuring a perfect sample of the overall demography.”

Funny how times change these things turn out.

Mayor De Blasio has called the standardized exam results a “monumental injustice” though no one, including the Mayor, is calling it a “meritocratic injustice”. He believes that the goal in selecting New York City public school students to attend New York City’s best educational institutions should be to increase the number of Black and Hispanic students and reduce the proportion of Asian-American students in order to more accurately reflect New York City’s voting population demographics. To achieve that goal, he would eliminate the test and, instead, base admissions on a system that offers seats to those students who receive the highest grades at each City middle school, no matter how mediocre the teaching or education at that school might be and no matter the scores students from those schools achieve on standardized tests … a type of formula similar to the one that was used to perpetuate a segregated school system in the 1970s. In this, New York City is not alone in attempting to artificially level demerit adjust the meritocratic playing field.

The better question to ask is why Black and Hispanic students aren’t scoring better on standardized exams … and finding solutions to address that problem. That is, what steps should be taken to improve those students’ elementary school education the scores of educationally disadvantaged students? Why aren’t they achieving higher test scores? One reason might be because Black and Hispanic children are receiving second-rate elementary-school educations … that they don’t have the same access to better schooling because of de facto segregation and/or poor teachers and/or the relative paucity of competing charter schools private schools alternative educational opportunities at the elementary and middle school levels. Why are Asian-American children receiving better educational training scoring higher on standardized exams? If Asian-American and/or other parents are putting more money and/or more effort into their children’s education – the so-called Tiger Mom phenomenon –, how should those relative advantages and disadvantages be addressed … and bridged?

The fact is that, by middle school, there is a huge gulf in achievement between children who have received a high-quality, comprehensive elementary school education … and those who have not. That gulf cannot be eliminated by attempting to rebalance the educational scales when those children are 15 years old with eight or nine years of schooling already behind them, whether that rebalancing is attempted at New York City’s elite high schools … or at standard ones. Educational deficiencies need to be addressed sooner. There are multiple causes … and multiple possible solutions. However, one of those solutions is not to once again opt-out of merit tip the scales to favor Blacks and Hispanics any racial, religious or national group at the high school level … and by so doing, disadvantage Asian-Americans another racial, religious or national group. Doing so undercuts the American Dream. It discounts merit.

America’s educational system used to be the best in the world. It no longer is. In a recent international study (the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)), the U.S. placed 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science. Several similar studies have reached the same dismal conclusion. Those scores are not going to change by subsuming merit to demographics. By the time students reach high school, the educational gulf already is unacceptably wide. The focus needs to be on serving enhancing the educational resources of children aged five through twelve. A helpful first step would be for New York City America to acknowledge that its educational system, designed for the 20th Century, isn’t working in the 21st. New York City’s America’s emphasis on providing universal access to a mediocre baseline, standardized education isn’t preparing children for today’s world. It isn’t even preparing them for a rigorous high school education. And the problem isn’t limited to New York City’s public education system. It’s an America-wide problem … and it is arguably the most significant threat to the future of the entire nation.

America’s outdated 20th Century educational philosophy system doesn’t only underserve its public school student constituency. It also underserves America by extending free or inexpensive “education-for-all” to America’s college students … no matter their ability or the nation’s employment needs. For example, a recent New York Federal Reserve study found that 4 in 10 recent college graduates work in jobs that don’t require a college degree. Moreover, at more than a third of American colleges, less than half of students earn a degree within 8 years. It’s chilling to consider the impact of wasted college degrees on American productivity and GCP.

America’s educational system has been failing for years … and America has been ignoring that failure. America’s educational system, and its priorities, require a rethink … and a revamping. It would be wise to stop treating the symptoms and start treating the causes. Both Republicans and Democrats might consider that during America’s 2020 election cycle.

Finally (from a good friend)

A speeding ticket in Kelowna B.C.:

Two Royal Canadian Mountain Police Highway Patrol Officers were conducting speeding enforcement on Highway 97, just north of Kelowna.

One of the officers was using a hand-held radar device to check speeding vehicles approaching the city. The officers were suddenly surprised when the radar gun began reading 300 miles per hour … and climbing. The officer attempted to reset the radar gun, but it would not reset and then suddenly turned off.

Just then a deafening roar over the tree tops on Highway 97 revealed that the radar had in fact, locked on to an RCAF CF-18 Hornet which was engaged in a low-flying exercise in the area.

Back at RCMP Headquarters in Kelowna the RCMP Superintendent fired off a complaint to the Base Commander of the CF-18’s in Cold Lake Alberta for shutting down the Highway Patrol’s Radar (actually frying it).

This reply came back in true Royal Canadian Air Force:

“Thank you for your letter . . .

You may be interested to know that the tactical computer on the Hornet had detected the presence of, and subsequently locked onto, your hostile radar equipment and automatically sent a jamming signal back to it, which is why it shut down.

Furthermore, an air-to-ground missile aboard the fully armed aircraft had also automatically locked on to your equipment’s location.

Fortunately, the Air Force pilot flying the Hornet recognized the situation for what it was, and quickly responded to the missile system alert status and was able to override the automated defense system before the missile was launched to destroy the hostile radar position on the side of Highway 97. The bottom line is your guys were lucky they didn’t get their doors blown off!

The pilot suggests you cover your mouths when swearing at them, since the video systems on these jets are very high tech.

Staff Sergeant Johnson, the officer holding the radar gun, should get his dentist to check his left molar. It appears the filling is loose. Also, the snap is broken on his holster.

If you need any more details, please don’t hesitate to call.”


*┬® Copyright 2019 by William Natbony. All rights reserved.

No Comments

Post A Comment