May 21, 2019

Varsity Blues is the tip of the iceberg

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

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 p.m. ET: 5,462,447 — Total deaths: 346,293 — Total recoveries — 2,191,461Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 p.m. ET: 1,653,904 — Total deaths: 97,948 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,915Map.
  3. World: Italy reports lowest number of new cases since February — Ireland reports no new coronavirus deaths on Monday for the first time since March 21 — WHO suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns.
  4. 2020: Trump threatens to move Republican convention from North Carolina — Joe Biden makes first public appearance in two months.
  5. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks over Memorial Day.
  6. Economy: New York stock exchange to reopen its floor on Tuesday — White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Charities refocus their efforts to fill gaps left by government.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 22 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Italy reports lowest number of new coronavirus cases since February

Italy’s aerobatic team Frecce Tricolori fly over Milan in Duomo Square on May 25. Photo: Francesco Prandoni/Getty Images

The Italian government reported 300 new cases of coronavirus on Monday, the lowest daily increase since Feb. 29.

Why it matters: Italy, the first country in Europe to implement a nationwide lockdown after emerging as a hotspot in March, appears to have finally weathered its coronavirus outbreak. Italy has reported nearly 33,000 total deaths, the third-highest total behind the U.S. and U.K.

Joe Biden makes first public appearance in over two months

Photo: Oliver Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden made his first in-person appearance in over two months on Monday to honor Memorial Day by laying a wreath at a Delaware veterans park, AP reports.

Why it matters: Biden, the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee, has taken the unprecedented step of campaigning from his home during the coronavirus pandemic, ever since canceling a rally in Cleveland on March 10.