Class-based Affirmative Action

Richard D. Kahlenburg urges Barack Obama to propose ending race-based affirmative action, substituting class-based affirmative action in its place—mostly as a political ploy to move “beyond race” while still channeling mopst fo the program’s benefits to minorities. Commenters give some arguments that Kahlenburg’s political analysis leaves out:

There’s no conflict between academic merit and the goals of racial and SES affirmative action, if one drops the SAT (which is academically useless but positively favors high SES youths) and instead relies on high school grades and class rank.

This, unfortunately, is nonsense. The SAT is not useless; it predicts college performance better than grades, class rank, and letters of recommendation. Evidence that the SAT favors high SES students, though often cited, is weak. The most crucial point, however, is that SES when applying to college simply doesn’t correlate very significantly with educational achievement, later income, or other measures of success. Coming from a low-income household, contrary to leftist stereotypes, isn’t much of a barrier in American society. In short, working-class Americans don’t need affirmative action. They’re doing fine without it.

I don’t see this as a big winner, politically, mostly because I don’t think working-class Americans will see it as likely to benefit them.  “We’ve been discriminating against you for all these years.  Tell you what—we’ll start discriminating for you!”  The obvious reaction is, Why not just stop discriminating?

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