Liam Julian

Instead, the Department of Education will encourage packing into AP courses black, Latino, poor, and perhaps even learning-disabled students who are unprepared for AP coursework. Such an approach can have only deleterious consequences: Either these pupils will grow frustrated and fail, or (more likely) the classes will become easier in order to accommodate them. The first outcome is unfair to one group of students, the second outcome is unfair to another.

More ominously, Ali has said that her office will now use “disparate impact” criteria when judging schools’ and district’s civil-rights concordance. The term “disparate impact” was everywhere last year when the Supreme Court heard a case in which the results of a firefighter test administered by New Haven, Connecticut, had been discarded because the city felt that too few minorities had passed the exam. The city tossed out the results, in other words, because the exam, while not manifestly racist, still had a “disparate impact” on minority test-takers. The Supreme Court eventually ruled against the city, finding that New Haven, in its disparate-impact rationale, had actually infringed upon the rights of the firefighters who did pass the test.

The Court’s sound conclusion was that disparate-impact decision-making in the pursuit of civil rights ultimately leads to patent violations of . . . civil rights. It also leads to the imposition of racial quotas or their ilk, which the Court in 2007 declared almost-always illegal.

Yet Duncan and Ali are impervious to this reasoning. They march onward, tripping over logic as they go. Do not be fooled by their paeans to equitable opportunity—equal results is the goal. Their quest for this Holy Grail will be stymied, of course, as countless similar quests have been. But along their ill-fated way they will surely do much harm to pupils and schools, not least by committing time and resources to a project that distracts from what should be the true objective: an improved education for every one of America’s students.

Liam Julian

Liam Julian, a Hoover Institution fellow, is managing editor of Policy Review.