Sunday, September 10, 2023

Don't you think this equity stuff has done got out of hand?

 by Rod Williams, August 22, 2023 - I am sure that for many people when someone says the word "equity" what they hear is "equality." Who can be against equality? Yes, there are still some people who really do not believe in equality, but they are few and far between. I would suspect almost everyone believes in equality before the law. Most believe, "All men are created equal."

Some confuse equity with equality simply because they have other interest other than current events and ideas and they are just unaware of the distinction so when someone says they will strive for equity in license plate reader investigations, or homeownership rates, that sounds like a good thing. 

For people who don't know, as the terms are normally used, equality means equal application of the law or other objective standards. As an example, it is equal treatment when approval of a home loan application is based on one's credit score, debt-to-income ratio, down payment, and work history regardless of race or sex or other factors. When one is denied a loan because you are female or Black, that is not equal treatment. I think everyone can understand that. 

Equity as it relates to a home loan application would look at the outcome of loan applications. If in a given community 80% of the people are White and 20% are Black, equity would dictate that 80% of all loan approvals should be of loan applicants who are White people and 20% of all loan approvals must be of people who are Black. Instead of applying equal criteria, in equity one must have equal outcomes.

Two things I read this week illustrated how far some are willing to go in the name of "equity." Kaleo Manuel is the first deputy of the Commission on Water Resource Management for the island of Maui which, as you know, has been devastated by the worst wide fire to every hit Hawaii. As the wildfire raged, Manuel stalled for hours on a request to release water to fill reservoirs until the fire was well underway and it was too late for the water to get to Maui firefighters in time to help (link). He has been reassigned to a different position and an investigation is under way as to why he delayed his decision. 

It appears the reason for the delay is tied to his concern for equity. He previously has said access to water should be predicated on “conversations about equity.” As the fire raged and he was asked to release the needed water, Manuel asked the water company to consult with local farmers about the impact of water diversion before approving their request. All of the details are not in, and we should probably wait for more information before drawing firm conclusions, but it appears concern about equity was the cause of the delay. In a livestream debate hosted by the University of Hawaii last year, Manuel described water as a sacred god. “Let water connect us and not divide us,” he said.  “We can share it, but it requires true conversations about equity." (link)

While in most cases the concern about equity does not result in an immediate deadly result, the application of equity can have bad results and be detrimental to society. The other case illustrates how equity is being applied in California to lower education standards and quality. This is examined in a WSJ article by Faith Bottum titled "California's Weapons of Math Destruction." I am paraphrasing, summarizing and quoting form the piece below. 

The California State Board of Education has issued a new framework for teaching math. While the framework is voluntary, most school districts and teachers will probably follow it. The framework addresses “Teaching for Equity and Engagement,” “Structuring School Experiences for Equity and Engagement” and “Supporting Educators in Offering Equitable and Engaging Mathematics Instruction.” The guidelines demand that math teachers be “committed to social justice work” to “equip students with a toolkit and mindset to identify and combat inequities with mathematics.” Teaching students math takes a backseat to teaching students that “mathematics plays a role in the power structures and privileges that exist within our society.”

To achieve equal outcomes, the framework favors the elimination of “tracking,” by which it means the practice of identifying students with the potential to do well. This supposedly damages the mental health of low-achieving students. The problem is that some students simply are better at math than others. To close the gap, the authors of the new framework have decided essentially to eliminate calculus—and to hold talented students back.

The framework recommends that Algebra I not be taught in middle school, which would force the course to be taught in high school. But if the students all take algebra as freshmen, there won’t be time to fit calculus into a four-year high-school program. And that’s the point: The gap between the best and worst math students will become less visible.

The framework did not even have input from mathematic educators. There has been pushback from some college professors who say that students need advanced math in high school in order to tackle college level STEM education. The pushback effort is being led by a Dr. Brian Conrad, a mathematics professor at Stanford University. He says, "Those who claim to be champions of equity should put more effort and resources into helping all students to achieve real success in learning mathematics, rather than using illegal artificial barriers, misrepresented data and citations, or fake validations to create false optics of success.”

I certainly agree but the way of California is the way we are all going. Thankfully, education is still primarily a state affair and not all states will abandon or downgrade quality standards in the name of equity, but we are seeing more and more pressure in all fields to do so.  When Nashville considered the use of License Plate Readers the local police oversight board passed a resolution that said, "LPRs should be distributed equitably across Nashville." Crime does not occur equally across Nashville and criminals do not live equally across Nashville, but the Community Oversight Board wants no more license plate readers to be used in north Nashville than are used in Forrest Hills. This is insane. Logic would inform that they should be used where they are most likely to catch criminals. 

Application of principals of equity would dictate that the proportion of White people in prison should not exceed the proportion of Black people in prison, regardless of who commits the crimes. According to the United States Bureau of Justice, in 2014 6% of all Black males ages 30 to 39 were in prison, while 2% of Hispanic and 1% of White males in the same age group were in prison (1). I could spend more time looking for more recent data, but I am sure the data has not changed much. Should no more Black men be sentenced to prison until the number of White men sentenced to prison equals 6% of the White population?  If we want equity between men and women, we will have to wait a very long time to put more men in prison. 

One problem with equity is that it creates a more discriminatory mindset. Already with affirmative action, when one encounters a successful Black person, there may be a tendency to question if the person's success was earned or awarded. With equity that is magnified.  There are a lot more White neurosurgeons in America than Black. I may look for the data and update this but for now accept that there are a lot more White neurosurgeons than Black. If we had strict application of equity and I was going to have brain surgery I would prefer a White neurosurgeon. 


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