U.S. News and World Report says that Northern Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson (TJ) is the best public high school in the country. Here’s a neat paper by Lloyd Cohen of the GMU Law School estimating the extent of AA (or as he calls it “invidious discrimination in admissions”) going on at TJ.

Cohen took full advantage of the Freedom of Information Act to collect an amazingly revealing data set. TJ begins the admissions process by ranking students from #1 to around #800 using test scores and GPA. They then have a fuzzier process to decide the 400 best students to admit out of the finalists.

The estimated admissions probabilities for students ranked #300 or better are always above 90%, regardless of race and gender. But wide disparities open up for students with lower rankings:
Cohen interprets this as clear evidence of massive discrimination in favor of black students, and in terms of statistical significance, he’s right. However, the magnitude of this effect is small: Only ten black students were admitted, and four of these were in the top half of the distribution. Thus, AA at TJ displaced roughly six non-black students out of 400.

What Cohen strangely does not emphasize is that gender discrimination probably had a larger effect. Yes, it is less statistically significant. But since 43% of the finalists were female, moderate gender-based AA matters. Consider: Women ranked around #400-500 were about 7 percentage-points more likely to be accepted than men. Evening out the conditional acceptance rates for these centiles alone would give males roughly another 6 slots.

TJ’s reaction to Cohen’s work is hysterical, but expected:

Last month, the Student Government Association invited Cohen to present his findings.

Principal Elizabeth V. Lodal canceled the event. “How could any educator approve of allowing a situation where a group of their students would be publicly demeaned?”

No wonder Cohen had to use the FOIA to get the facts. When people interpret critical questions as personal insults, it’s awfully hard to have a conversation.