The Push to End Merit-Based Education – The Controversy

How some teachers (and parents) are rethinking the education system


Last weekend, the Boston Public School system decided to suspend the entry requirements for advanced classes for fourth through sixth graders. “There’s been a lot of inequities that have been brought to the light in the pandemic that we have to address,” Superintendent Brenda Cassellius told GBH News. “There’s a lot of work we have to do in the district to be antiracist and have policies where all of our students have a fair shot at an equitable and excellent education.” Although influenced by the pandemic many feel that the suspension was heavily influenced by what many see as inequities in the system. Although Boston is 80% black and hispanic, 70% of the program is white and Asian.

The move comes as a growing number of American educators embrace educational standards grounded in critical race theory. According to the Britannica definition, critical race theory, or CRT, is “the view that the law and legal institutions are inherently racist and that race itself, instead of being biologically grounded and natural, is a socially constructed concept that is used by white people to further their economic and political interests at the expense of people of color. According to critical race theory (CRT), racial inequality emerges from the social, economic, and legal differences that white people create between “races” to maintain elite white interests in labor markets and politics, giving rise to poverty and criminality in many minority communities. The CRT movement officially organized itself in 1989, at the first annual Workshop on Critical Race Theory, though its intellectual origins go back much further, to the 1960s and ’70s.”

In education, CRT rejects the concept of merit based education. Most scholars recognize that a variety of factors are responsible for contributing to the racial disparities in the American educational system. One of the most important is poverty, which typically leads to reduced academic performance. CRT differs from the historical approach by assuming that the root problem is systemic racism. Any racial disparities are then attributed to ingrained racism within the system. (http//

In the case of Boston’s advanced programs, seats were awarded based on a test delivered at the end of the third grade, where high-scoring students tended to be Asian or white. As a result of this disparity, the entry qualifications came under fire for being racist. School officials made the decision to suspend the program after students were unable to take this year’s test due to COVID-19 (Boston schools just reopened March 1st). However, the district acknowledged that the decision was heavily influenced by concerns over equity. Though the advanced program will continue, it is unclear whether the entry requirements will ever return to its previous status. Boston Public Schools have established a working group which will be considering concerns over equity “to provide a recommendation as to the future of the program.” (GBH News)


Boston is only the latest school district to embrace CRT-grounded policy. Some school districts, mainly in big cities, are heavily influenced by CRT. Last October, the Vice President of the San Francisco Board of Education openly stated that meritocracy is a racist system. ( The school board has now voted to change the admission standards for the Bay Area’s only magnet school, Lowell High School, which accepts students based on standardized test results. Currently, 51% of Lowell’s 2,900 students are Asian American, while another 18% are white, 10% hispanic, 2% black. The Vice President hopes to change admissions to a lottery system to improve diversity. 

Some educators have taken their educational theories a step farther. The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) this February encouraged teachers to register for training that encourages “ethnomathematics,” an education trend that argues, “among other things, that White supremacy manifests itself in the focus on finding the right answer” ( They believe that the reason Black and Hispanic students traditionally underperform on standardized tests is because the test  itself is racist. The course encouraged teachers to invent more than one solution to their math problems and refrain from making students show their work, because “the concept of mathematics being purely objective is unequivocally false.” ( The course’s toolkit maintained that objectivity in mathematics was used to perpetrate white supremacy. Other teachers have attended diversity training that enforces the idea that objectivity is a form of white supremacy. Luvelle Brown, the superintendent of the Ithaca City School District in New York recently co-led one such workshop this February.  (doc)

A growing number of teachers are being encouraged to take racially sensitivity and inclusion training. This picture is from, one of many organizations offering antiracist clinics which some feel is grounded in CRT.

With this increase in CRT-inspired educational interventions has come a growing backlash. This is especially true for Asian American parents. Just last month, the Chinese American Citizens Alliance of Greater New York (CACAGNY) published a letter condemning CRT as “a hateful, divisive, manipulative fraud” that is racist “from its very roots.” The letter stated that Asians are considered a minority until they become successful, at which point, “they are white by adjacency.” The association declared that “CRT wants to get rid of too many Asians in schools.” A full copy of CACAGNY’s letter can be found on their website, Asian Americans have statistically outperform their peers on standardized testing. 

Meanwhile, other countries have begun to pay attention to CRT, especially its influence in a growing number of American universities. France’s Education Minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer has discouraged the inclusion of CRT in his country’s colleges. French President Emmanuel Macron appeared to support this when he warned against “certain social science theories imported entirely from the United States.” ( 

Merit based education and Critical Race Theory combine to form a truly controversial educational topic.