Ethnic Balance on Scholar Teams

Those irate correspondents (Letters, May 24) who vehemently responded to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s policies concerning the academic decathlon understand neither the purposes of the decathlon itself, nor the thrust of the recently publicized “quota” system.

First, the academic decathlon was not conceived to demonstrate that those students who scored well on standardized tests could prevail in yet another academic contest. Rather, the diligence in preparation by the students, and skill in motivation by the coaches, was emphasized; thus “superquiz” topics such as energy, housing and futurism were assigned, topics that are relatively unknown by even the most well-read students in general.

The whole point of including students who had not achieved high grades was to increase participation, and to involve large segments of the student populace in healthy academic endeavors. How successful has this been? Ask the excoriated coach at Dorsey, Dan Spetner, how many medals his “C” students have won, despite test scores that supposedly imply their lack of ability.

What, then, of “quotas”? The district, through Senior High School Division Superintendent Paul Possemato, has stated that if the student body of a school is, for example, 40% black, and if, in four years, that school has never included a black student on its team, it is not reasonable to assume that a sincere effort has been made to include all segments of the student populace on the team. I would go further and state that many coaches use standardized tests to choose their teams, failing to realize either the sloppiness of that method or the stereotype that it perpetuates.


Since all coaches will declaim that they have made rigorous attempts to widen their base of selection, Possemato’s proposal would have changed very little. Large numbers of students will again be implicitly told they are too ill-prepared or too lazy. And the tragedy is they will believe it. It is a tragedy that affects us all--a blackout that we can afford neither now or in the future.


Academic Decathlon Coach

Washington High School


Los Angeles