The Jersey City Board of Education voted tonight to review admissions policies for two of its top rated magnet schools, McNair Academic and Infinity Institute. JCBOE plans to hold two public hearings on the topic. The first is expected to be a virtual meeting to be held on Thursday, July 15, 2021. The second public hearing will be scheduled after the Board returns to regularly scheduled monthly meetings in August.
Stating that the policies have not been updated in decades, the board has decided to review them with the aim of maximizing fairness, equity, and diversity. The district promises to conduct an analysis of current policies, to compare them with other large and small school districts nationwide, and to deliver recommendations that would take effect for the class of 2026, thereby affecting students entering eight grade in the fall of 2021.
The current admissions policy at McNair aims to accept a student population that is 25% Black, 25% Hispanic, 25% White, and 25% Other. Applications are sorted into groups by ethnicity and then ranked. The top 50 students from each of four groups are chosen, and an additional 40 students are selected from the remaining applications, without consideration for ethnicity. Because Asian students as a group tend to outperform on standardized tests, Asian students are likely to overwhelmingly fill those 40 race blind spots. Thus, as of 2019-2020, actual enrollment at McNair skews more Asian (42.9%), while Black students make up only 13.7% of the population. Hispanic students (20.1%) and White students (19.5%) are enrolled at rates much closer to the target acceptance rate.
What does this mean for parents and students? Fairness, equity, and diversity are qualitative and subjective terms, so it’s hard to know exactly what the recommendations for change will be. Is it even possible to be fair, equitable, and diverse simultaneously? Stuyvesant High School in New York mostly recently made headlines again, this time for accepting only 8 Black students out of 749 total. The New York City high school relies solely on a single admissions test, and although Black students take the test in equal proportions to White students (18% each), White students make up 28% of those admitted while Black students account for only 4%. Jersey City magnet schools do not have such stark differences in acceptance rates by race as a direct result of the current admissions policies. So in comparison to New York, Jersey City appears to have a smaller diversity problem.
That said, any potential changes to admissions policies seem highly likely to be designed to increase the admissions rate of Black students, and necessarily decrease the admissions rates for Asian students. The problem is reminiscent of a major case that may be reviewed by the Supreme Court. In Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, Asian American students allege that Harvard’s admissions process, which incorporates race, puts Asian American students at a disadvantage. Harvard won the lawsuit and the decision was affirmed on appeal; however, the Supreme Court may hear an appeal filed in February 2021.