Mismatch Theory: Why a Movie Should Be Made about Prof. Richard Sander (Part 1)

 

This post is the first in a series of four posts on Prof. Richard Sander and the reaction to his Mismatch theory. You can read Part 2 here.

"Does Affirmative Action Hurt Those it Intends to Help?, lecture by Richard H. Sander, Professor of Law, UCLA held at Love Auditorium. Co-sponsored by The Institute for Philosophy, Politics, & Economics; The Center for Freedom & Western Civilization; and The Sio Chair.Recently, Justice Scalia made the news with some comments about the Supreme Court’s “Fisher” case. Specifically, he noted:

There are those who contend that it does not benefit African-Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less­-advanced school …­­ a slower-­track school where they do well.

Scalia was referring to “mismatch” theory. This is the idea that students, when they attend schools for which they are ill-prepared, actually learn less than they would have learned if they had attended a school more suited to their abilities.

As far as I am aware, Thomas Sowell was the first to propose the theory. In his book, Choosing a College, he advised students not to attend the most prestigious school to which they are admitted but a school for which their SAT scores are near the school’s average.

Over the past few years, Prof. Richard Sander has done the best and most work on the topic. His book Mismatch, coauthored with Stuart Taylor, I believe will prove to be one of the most important books of the decade.

I’ve read much—and, I think, nearly all—of the academic critiques Sander’s mismatch research. I must say, I find these critiques to be some of the worst scholarship I’ve ever read. The authors often adopt slimy and slippery rhetorical devices, and usually they try to deceive readers. Below, I give an example of a such a critique.

Simultaneously, Sander has been the object of vicious personal attacks, usually the attacks try to insinuate that his goal is to keep black people down—to keep them from attending elite colleges and graduate schools.

However, his goal is the opposite. As he shows in his careful and honest research, often affirmative action policies hurt the very people they are supposed to help. If you’re goal is to help black people get ahead, then your hero should be Sander, not “racial justice” advocates.

Below, I list a chapter from my book Cheating: An Insider’s Report on the Use of Race in Admissions at UCLA. It summarizes some of Sander’s major findings on mismatch; it examines in detail a scholar’s slimy attempt to discredit Sander; and it discusses some noteworthy personal details about Sander.

A number of movies chronicle a lone person who is willing to stand up to power or to tell the truth when no one else is willing to. One famous one is Erin Brockovich. Another is Concussion, the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, who revealed the frequent head-injury problems of NFL players.

In a just universe someone would make a similar movie about Sander. I believe that it would be at least as important and interesting as Erin Brokovich or Concussion. Does anyone else agree?

One Man Who Told the Truth

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reportedly once said, “One man who stopped lying could bring down a tyranny.”[i]

Although admissions policy at universities is not quite tyranny, it is surrounded by much deceit. In standing up to the deceit, one man has been more important and courageous than all others. His name is Richard Sander.

From the early 1970s, when universities first began granting racial preferences, university leaders touted a strict party line about the preferences: (i) The preferences were small; indeed university leaders frequently claimed that the preferences did no more than break ties. (ii) Every student who received the preferences was fully qualified to succeed at the school. And (iii), the effects of the preferences were overwhelmingly positive.

Although university leaders frequently made such claims, they were extremely reluctant to release data that would allow researchers to investigate the claims.

In 1998, Sander became a member of highly prestigious group assigned to study legal education. He was granted access to a large data set that would allow him to test such claims. As he soon learned, all of the above claims are false.

A Racial Gap at UCLA’s Law School

Born in Washington, DC, Sander spent most of his childhood in small towns in northwest Indiana. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1978 from Harvard, he—like Barack Obama—worked as a community organizer in South Side Chicago.[ii]

In 1983, he began graduate school at Northwestern University, receiving his law degree in 1988 and a PhD in economics in 1990. In 1989, he joined the faculty at UCLA’s school of law.

Upon arriving at UCLA, he soon he noticed—and was very pleased by—the racial diversity of the school. As he wrote in his book, Mismatch:

During my years in graduate school, Chicago and its communities had passed through some dramatic events (some of them memorably recounted in Barack Obama’s memoir, Dreams from My Father), but the university and my overwhelmingly white classmates seemed largely sealed off from the city. UCLA Law School felt very different. Nearly half of the student body, along with many of the faculty, were non-white; student organizational life was vibrant, and many students spent their precious free time engaged with pro bono organizations in Los Angeles neighborhoods. Classroom discussions reflected the diversity of the students, though not in a particularly self-conscious way. Cross-racial interaction was ubiquitous and cross-racial friendships were common. After the racial tensions of Chicago and the sequestration of Northwestern, UCLA seemed too good to be true. Of course, in a sense, it was. Like a hundred fictional travelers to new worlds that seemed at first to be utopias, I was gradually to discover that the law school had some disturbing hidden secrets.

One discovery was that race was closely linked to law school performance. Almost all classes other than seminars used anonymous grading, but after grades were turned in, professors could get a “matching sheet” that linked exam numbers to names. After my very first semester I was struck that my Hispanic, black, and American Indian students were mostly getting Cs in a class in which the median grade was a B-. The pattern repeated the next semester—including even students who had impressed me in class. Puzzled, I asked a senior colleague about the pattern. Oh yes, she replied, shaking her head. The minority students come in with weaker preparation. It was a tough problem.[iii]

Partly because of his training in economics and statistics, Sander was soon asked to be a technical adviser to the admissions committee. After analyzing the data from the committee, he learned that there indeed was a stark difference between the preparation levels of various racial groups. For instance, the law school had created an index that combined information about an applicant’s LSAT score, his undergraduate grades, and the difficulty of his college. Whites were essentially guaranteed acceptance if they had a score of 820 or higher on the index and guaranteed rejection if they had a score of 760 or lower. For African Americans and American Indians, however, the corresponding numbers were 620 and 550. Thus, for a 140-point range (620 to 760), a student would certainly be admitted if he were black yet certainly be rejected if he were white.

Although the gap in preparation was generally unknown to the students, the gap in classroom performance, as Sander discovered, was well known:

Once, when a student told me about his courseload, I observed that he was in a lot of tough classes graded on mandatory curves. That was true, he responded, but a couple of them were “safeties.” I asked him what that meant. A little embarrassed, he said that was a term for a class that had enough black and Hispanic students to absorb the low grades on the curve. His remark was breathtakingly cynical—and an oversimplification too. (The correlation between race and grades was by no means perfect.) But it was hard to blame him, and I gradually learned that many students thought in those terms.[iv]

Sander began to believe that his discoveries were manifestations of a concept that economist Thomas Sowell has dubbed the “mismatch” effect. According to the effect, if students are less prepared for a particular level of instruction—which occurs almost by design with affirmative action—then, not only do they make worse grades than their peers, they actually learn less than they would have learned if they had attended a less challenging school.

Because of the effect, Sowell offered some surprising advice in his book, Choosing a College. He suggested that students should not necessarily go to the best college to which they are admitted. Rather, they should go to a college at which their SAT scores are near the average of the college.

This series will continue tomorrow on Ricochet.


Notes

[i] http://harvardmagazine.com/1998/09/right.chaos.html.

[ii] Unless I state otherwise, my sources for this chapter are documents (including copies of emails) that Sander has provided me or things he has told me in interviews conducted during late 2013 and early 2014.

[iii] Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor, Jr., Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students it’s Intended to Help and why Universities won’t Admit it, 2012, Basic Books, pp. 49-50.

[iv] Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor, Jr., Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students it’s Intended to Help and why Universities won’t Admit it, 2012, Basic Books, p. 51.

There are 12 comments.

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  1. blank generation member Inactive
    blank generation member
    @blankgenerationmember

    As one of those who graduated at the lower percentile (you know, bottom) of their class has anyone done research on major vs. race?  Prolly not.

    • #1
  2. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    The impact of mismatch on law school education is probably different than undergraduate, because it actually matters if you learn something.  When it comes to an undergraduate degree, nobody seems to care about anything except the name of the college.  Resumes don’t usually list grade point averages, much less any real indicia of educational success.

    • #2
  3. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Larry3435:The impact of mismatch on law school education is probably different than undergraduate, because it actually matters if you learn something. When it comes to an undergraduate degree, nobody seems to care about anything except the name of the college. Resumes don’t usually list grade point averages, much less any real indicia of educational success.

    But won’t the effect of the mismatch show up in the after undergraduate college performance difference between those who learn something and those who learn something less than that?

    • #3
  4. Pilgrim Coolidge
    Pilgrim
    @Pilgrim

    Larry3435:The impact of mismatch on law school education is probably different than undergraduate, because it actually matters if you learn something. When it comes to an undergraduate degree, nobody seems to care about anything except the name of the college. Resumes don’t usually list grade point averages, much less any real indicia of educational success.

    The real difference with law school is that the standardized testing of the bar examinations provides some indicia of mastery of the material.  Sample results in link clearly indicate that diversity law students don’t “catch up” over the course of three years of study.  A fair percentage are really screwed because no one was honest enough to tell them “We can get you into and through law school, by hook or crook, but you are never going to pass the bar exam.”

    California Bar Results (including race and ethnicity)

    • #4
  5. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Tim Groseclose: they actually learn less than they would have learned if they had attended a less challenging school.

    I’d like to rephrase this slightly:

    …they actually learn less than they would have learned if they had attended a school for which they were better prepared.

    The point is, we’re not going to fix poor preparation on the back end of someone’s education. The only reason to send anyone of any race to a prestigious school for which they aren’t prepared is misbegotten adherence to credentialism, which is rampant in our society.

    As conservatives, we believe in what works, not what makes us feel good about our good intentions. Mismatching any student of any racial or ethnic profile is a tragedy for the student and a loss to society. I wouldn’t want my lily-white daughters mismatched for someone’s gender-affirmative action agenda.

    Dang, these progressives are condescending and destructive.

    • #5
  6. hokiecon Inactive
    hokiecon
    @hokiecon

    One reason an undergraduate education—I say this as a recent college graduate and a current graduate student—is viewed with less efficacy than, say, a law degree, is because, as Larry3435 pointed out, there is no real way to determine how much one took from their undergraduate degree. GPA is pretty useless, as it doesn’t reflect institutional or curricular rigor. Since employers are becoming increasingly aware of this, standard bearers like GPA are becoming less important. The Collegiate Learning Assessment measures post-college learning where GPA, and possibly test scores, can’t always be of any help. Isn’t evaluating what you took from your college education more important than the score you made on a test that got you into college?

    • #6
  7. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    hokiecon:One reason an undergraduate education—I say this as a recent college graduate and a current graduate student—is viewed with less efficacy than, say, a law degree, is because, as Larry3435 pointed out, there is no real way to determine how much one took from their undergraduate degree. GPA is pretty useless, as it doesn’t reflect institutional or curricular rigor. Since employers are becoming increasingly aware of this, standard bearers like GPA are becoming less important. The Collegiate Learning Assessment measures post-college learning where GPA, and possibly test scores, can’t always be of any help. Isn’t evaluating what you took from your college education more important than the score you made on a test that got you into college?

    Can potential employers use this to assess entry level college grads? I know some small business employers who get pretty frustrated at the wide range of work-related competence in this population. Some of it is simply personal characteristics of reliability and dedication to excellence.

    • #7
  8. hokiecon Inactive
    hokiecon
    @hokiecon

    Bob Thompson: Can potential employers use this to assess entry level college grads? I know some small business employers who get pretty frustrated at the wide range of work-related competence in this population. Some of it is simply personal characteristics of reliability and dedication to excellence.

    I believe so. Though it hasn’t exactly caught on in the workforce, I think a post-college assessment is a great predictor of success. What good is GPA when an entry-level graduate took the easy-A electives and cheated his way through undergraduate via his fraternity’s test banks? CLA is supposed to separate the wheat from the chaff because it relies not on test-taking ability alone, which isn’t always the best predictor of success in the workforce. I speak from personal experience. In high school, many of the supposed honor students—high GPAs and test scores—flunked out of college. The irony…

    • #8
  9. Pilgrim Coolidge
    Pilgrim
    @Pilgrim

    Bob Thompson: Can potential employers use this to assess entry level college grads? I know some small business employers who get pretty frustrated at the wide range of work-related competence in this population. Some of it is simply personal characteristics of reliability and dedication to excellence.

    The short answer is no.

    The employer would first have to document how the assessment was closely linked to the actual requirements of the job. “I prefer to have smart people working for me” won’t cut it. Various licenses and certifications work but not general education

    Second the employer would have to demonstrate that there was no disparate impact on persons in a protected class in the hiring criteria.

    • #9
  10. hokiecon Inactive
    hokiecon
    @hokiecon

    Pilgrim: The employer would first have to document how the assessment was closely linked to the actual requirements of the job. “I prefer to have smart people working for me” won’t cut it. Various licenses and certifications work but not general education

    Not what tests like CLA are supposed to accomplish. It’s used to determine a general level of aptitude GPA/test scores can’t always measure, not a replacement for specific skills needed for certain jobs. It’s more of a “Hey, I’m not a complete idiot, here’s my proof that I’m capable of being of general value to your company if you choose to hire me based on the skill set you are looking for.”

    It’s more like icing on the cake, assuming that cake has been sufficiently baked with good ingredients.

    • #10
  11. Pilgrim Coolidge
    Pilgrim
    @Pilgrim

    hokiecon: Not what tests like CLA are supposed to accomplish. It’s used to determine a general level of aptitude GPA/test scores can’t always measure, not a replacement for specific skills needed for certain jobs. It’s more of a “Hey, I’m not a complete idiot, here’s my proof that I’m capable of being of general value to your company if you choose to hire me based on the skill set you are looking for.”

    We may be talking past each other.  Any testing criteria has to be very specifically tied to job performance not proof of general aptitude or learning ability.

    • #11
  12. hokiecon Inactive
    hokiecon
    @hokiecon

    Pilgrim: We may be talking past each other. Any testing criteria has to be very specifically tied to job performance not proof of general aptitude or learning ability.

    One of the reasons CLA hasn’t really caught on is most likely due to the reliance on general aptitude rather than specific job performance, which raises the question: Is college meant to be the place where students are trained for specific jobs?

    • #12

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