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Douglas Andrews / December 8, 2020

The Achievement Gap and How Not to Fix It

Blacks are woefully underrepresented in certain jobs and industries, but systemic racism isn’t to blame.

“Facts,” said John Adams, “are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

Adams was speaking to a jury, he was speaking about the law, and he was defending the perpetrators of the Boston Massacre. But he might just as well have been addressing the do-gooders and the race pimps who insist that black underrepresentation in certain areas of the American workforce is the result of systemic racism.

It isn’t. And it’s a sad truth that there simply aren’t enough high-achieving blacks to go around.

As Heather Mac Donald writes in City Journal, “The United States is being torn apart by an idea: that racism defines America. … Now, activists and their media allies are marshaling a more sweeping set of facts to prove the dominance of white supremacy: the absence of a proportional representation of blacks in a range of organizations. That insufficient diversity results from racial bias, claim the activists, and every few days, the press serves up another exposé of this industry or that company’s too-white workforce to drive home the point.”

Indeed, we discussed this very topic last week regarding Wall Street.

It’s not just Wall Street, though. It’s also those rich, sanctimonious, speech-suppressing lefties in Silicon Valley. As Mac Donald points out, “3.7% of Google’s employees and contractors are black, compared with about 13% black representation in the country at large; at Salesforce, 2.9% of employees are black; at Facebook, 3.8%; and at Microsoft, 4.5%. Black investors make up less than 1 percent of venture capitalists and less than 1 percent of the startup founders whom those venture capitalists underwrite.”

How did this happen? Two words: achievement gap. “The median black eighth-grader does not possess even basic math skills,” writes Mac Donald. “Fifty-three percent of black eighth-graders scored ‘below basic’ on math in 2017. Only 11% of black eighth-graders were proficient in math, and 2% were advanced. By contrast, 20% of white eighth-graders were below basic in 2017, 31% were proficient, and 13% were advanced. Only 12% of Asian eighth-graders were below basic, 32% were proficient, and 32% were advanced. The picture was not much better in reading. Forty percent of black eighth-graders were below basic in reading in 2017, 17% were proficient readers, and 1% were advanced readers. Sixteen percent of white eighth-graders were below basic in reading, 39% of white eighth-graders were proficient readers, and 6% were advanced readers. Thirteen percent of Asian eighth-graders were below basic, 45% were proficient, and 12% were advanced readers.”

Care to guess why there are so few blacks in Big Tech?

A case can be made that this yawning academic achievement gap is at least in part due to the inherent imbalance in school funding. But it’d be a weak case. The Detroit Public Schools, for example, spend more per student than all but eight of the nation’s 100 largest school districts, yet the district still generates the nation’s worst reading scores among low-income students. Of course, the U.S. has also spent trillions of dollars to close this awful achievement gap — but to no avail.

When all else fails, start counting by race. Every company that gets called out immediately pledges to do better. Some pledge to do much better. Take Facebook, for example, which says that a preposterous half of its workforce will come from “underrepresented communities” by 2023, according to Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. We’ll say this: With a workforce that’s currently 3.8% black, it’s got plenty of room to grow.

Of course, as Mac Donald points out, if racial bias doesn’t explain Facebook’s staffing disparity, then counting by race will only compromise the caliber of its product. And so will every other American institution that thinks race-based discrimination is the answer to the dearth of black employees in their midst.

The same goes for grad schools, law schools, and medical schools, but don’t dare suggest that admissions should be merit-based rather than race-based. As Mac Donald writes, “A paper published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in March 2020 argued against racial preferences in medical school admissions, arguing that students admitted under a racial-preference regime disproportionately flunk out.”

Imagine that. The paper’s author, Norman Wang, is the director of the electrophysiology fellowship program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Check that — he was the director. Soon after calling for the colorblind evaluation of future doctors, both he and his paper got canceled. He lost his position at the UPMC, and one of his colleagues at the medical school tweeted that she and other faculty “denounce this individual’s racist beliefs and paper.”

This is what we’ve come to: the knee-jerk rejection of objective standards, and the looming debilitation of our most fundamental institutions.

In closing, Mac Donald rightly points out that thousands of blacks outperform whites and Asians thanks to study and self-discipline. And that, she says, points to the only real solution: “honesty about the cause of racial employment disparities and an unapologetic embrace of hard work and high expectations for all.”


Correction: In our original article, we wrote that Norman Wang, the director of the electrophysiology fellowship program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, “lost his position at Pitt” after publishing a paper that was critical of the use of racial preferences in medical school admissions. Since the UPMC and the University itself are separate entities, we should’ve written that Mr. Wang “lost his position at the UPMC.”

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