This month, colleges should begin their first race-neutral admissions cycle — yet, as National Review reported last week, many are trying to maintain the status quo in a misguided effort to promote diversity in higher education.

Since the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in June, admissions offices have been searching for ways to continue using racial preferences without running afoul of the law. Many schools have stated they will comply with the decision while finding ways to preserve their “mission” and “values.” By attempting to circumvent the ruling, these colleges neglect to fix what’s broken. Affirmative action was methodologically unsound, never fulfilling its promise of ensuring equal access and remedying achievement gaps. Schools have an opportunity to course-correct and, more important, refocus diversity initiatives on genuinely leveling the playing field in education.

Affirmative action was flawed from the start. When Justice Lewis Powell green-lit affirmative action in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, he justified the practice using an educational-diversity rationale. Since then, colleges have emphasized the amorphous goal of producing inclusive classrooms. Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, the respondents in the recent Supreme Court cases, continued to argue that diversity “enhances the education of all of [its] students.” Harvard’s new application essays reflect this sentiment.

As Justice Clarence Thomas noted, this objective assumes that a student from an underrepresented minority group will bring something to the community that others won’t. In other words, it’s a stereotype, a goal that implies certain students are selected for admission in part because their presence benefits other, nonminority students. Because admissions is a zero-sum game, the Supreme Court determined that such hollow educational benefits resulted in unavoidable discrimination.

While some experts, including a former admissions dean, believe the Supreme Court left a loophole for race considerations to continue, it’s past time for schools to rethink how to best serve minority students. The justices were clear in their belief that the old system could not persist: “Universities may not simply establish through application essays or other means the regime we hold unlawful today.” With that, the rule book has been rewritten, freeing all schools — not just colleges and universities — from their social obligation to establish diversity with a discriminatory practice. Now that affirmative action has ended, schools have a chance to rework diversity-focused policies and support disadvantaged students in new and creative ways.

After the Supreme Court ruling, many news outlets predicted an outcome similar to California’s 1996 affirmative-action ban, which stunted black and Latino student enrollment at UCLA and UC Berkeley. Economist Thomas Sowell interpreted the results of that ban very differently, however, finding that minority students denied entry into UCLA and UC Berkeley successfully graduated from campuses that better aligned with their skill sets at the time. Sowell’s comments indicate there is a racial-achievement gap that precedes college enrollment and impacts preparedness and acceptance to top universities. If the measure of success for diversity initiatives is greater access to educational opportunities, then K–12 schools — not admissions — should be the primary focus for policy reform.

One solution worth considering is Roland Fryer’s recent proposal in the New York Times. Fryer advocates for higher-education institutions to create high-quality feeder schools for disadvantaged students using their institutions’ endowments. While this idea may face resistance from the higher-education institutions in question, the sentiment aligns with a sincere commitment to creating diverse student populations and addressing the root issues in the American K–12 education system.

A more realistic route for policy change is to resolve the effects of residential assignment. Residential assignment upholds the legacy of redlining in the K–12 system by using similar discriminatory maps to determine what school a child attends based on nothing more than their home address. Implementing open enrollment can provide a solution, as all families are empowered to choose the best traditional public school for their children regardless of their background or zip code.

Research on open enrollment shows promising results suggesting that families overwhelmingly transfer into higher-performing public schools. Open enrollment can also motivate struggling public schools to improve. For instance, after California implemented open enrollment, schools with high numbers of students transferring out increased their educational offerings to mitigate losses from their student body. Further expanding open enrollment to other states would enable more students to receive a quality education, thereby improving their college readiness and competitiveness in the admissions process.

The end of affirmative action should be an inflection point, redirecting school communities, institutions, and policy-makers toward solutions that create greater educational opportunities. A renewed focus on policy reforms that address systemic issues in K–12 education can pave the way for a truly inclusive and equitable future for all students.