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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It's not just cheaters: From legacy privileges to special testing exemptions to private tutors and other professional services, it's increasingly clear that America's selective college admissions system has a problem.

Why it matters: These are assaults on equality of opportunity, which American politicians have preached for generations.

  • 4.2% of students at wealthier public schools have designations for extra time during tests, the WSJ reported today.
  • At poorer schools, it's only 1.6%.
  • White students disproportionately benefit: 64% of special designations go to them, while they're less than half of public school enrollment.

The big picture: College admissions have become ruthlessly competitive, and the existing rules allow people to buy advantages without breaking a single rule.

  • "Public high schools decide which students get a special designation like a 504 that puts them in line for more time."
  • "Typically, a medical professional must assess a student and decide he or she has some condition such as anxiety or attention problems."
  • "In affluent communities, parents are more likely to know this option exists, and can pay for an outside evaluation if the school won’t."
  • "Many poorer families can’t afford such testing even if they are aware of the process."

What's next: The College Board is rolling out an "adversity score" to give socioeconomic and environmental context for test scores.

  • And Operation Varsity Blues is still unfolding, showcasing the number of elite parents willing to pay to get their kids through the side door.

The bottom line: Nothing will, or should, prevent a parent from doing the absolute best for their child.

  • But it's increasingly hard to square the idea of meritocracy with a system that consistently conveys structural advantages on those born into wealth and social connections.

Go deeper

Updated 5 mins ago - World

North Korea claims latest missile test new weapon launched from submarine

North Korean state media claims the country's military fired this missile on Tuesday. Photo: Korean Central News Agency

North Korean state media announced that a detected ballistic missile launch off its east coast on Tuesday was a newly developed weapon test-fired from a submarine.

Why it matters: Pyongyang's latest in a series of recent missile launches into the sea happened hours after U.S. officials emphasized their commitment to restart negotiations on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, which have stalled since talks broke down during the Trump administration, AP notes.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Manchin's massive means test

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is offering progressives a trade: He'll vote for their cherished social programs if they accept strict income caps for the recipients, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Manchin’s plan to use so-called means-testing for everything from paid family medical leave to elder and disabled care would drastically shrink the size and scope of the programs. It also would bring a key moderate vote to the progressive cause.

The China whisperer

Nick Burns. Photo: Chen Mengtong/China News Service via Getty Images

President Biden's nominee for ambassador to China will face aggressive questioning Wednesday about the most important, and potentially perilous, bilateral relationship in the world.

Why it matters: While Nick Burns is an experienced diplomat with support on both sides of the aisle, lawmakers want to use his confirmation hearing to force the administration into some tough positions on China.

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