Monday, April 02, 2012

Affirmative Action Discussion

Prof Rick Sander, guest-blogging over at Volokh has interesting data and discussion about affirmative action in college admissions and the eventual outcomes.  Note that he is being quite general here, including legacies as well as racial affirmative action - in fact, anyone who was less-prepared coming into college, accepted on the hopes that they would catch on and catch up.  He tracked the progress of all who came in with lesser credentials on a set-aside.

The results were not pretty on several levels, especially in STEM majors. Affirmative action admits flunk out or switch to easier majors at such a high level that the author believes that there would be more black, hispanic, and native lawyers, doctors, physicists, and engineers if they had gone to less-elite schools in the first place, where they were more like their classmates.  The mismatch may be worse than mere prejudice, in terms of eventual outcomes.

The authors have been vilified, but not controverted, as they keep noting.  One of the things that they call for is more transparency.  The elite schools want to have diversity numbers that look good, and so do not acknowledge the tradeoff to highschoolers applying.  They don't want those 17-year-olds to know that if their goal is to be a doctor, they might have a better chance elsewhere.  Thus, they scoop the top minority students, unintentionally treating them badly, leaving the B+ level schools to take the next group down, etc.  Eventually, most minority students ends up slightly over their heads, all for the "honor" of getting into a "better" school.

So who benefits, long term?  Only the school, not the student or the society.  It's hard to fault teenagers for jumping at the short-term gain and prestige of certain schools.  It's a temptation.  But they should at least have the data going in.  Those who run cross-country at least, even if no others, might understand the concept of starting slower and gradually reeling in those ahead of you (and the great satisfaction of that).


dmoelling said...

I saw this with women in engineering back in the 1970's. In that era you could always tell the women who belonged in Engineering and those who were there because they were pushed to go there. It was a little sad because while the ones who didn't really belong did well with regard to getting jobs/promotions, they rarely enjoyed the work. Their professional success was due to frightened companies internal affirmative action policies.

You also saw lots of women transferring to less quantitative areas such as management.

It's still happening. One of my business partners daughter is an electrical engineer who graduated a few years back from RPI. She always remarked on the number of women, who, as she put it "shouldn't be here".

This doesn't mean they couldn't master the topic, but going to a less competitive school would allow them to gain skills at their own pace.

Sam L. said...

A reason, perhaps "the" reason, is that minority student's schools are bad,resulting in them being less educated, less learned, less able to compete.

My vote is "the".

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Sadly, the evidence doesn't support that. Really bad schools, where it is dangerous and your cortisol levels are always elevated, are of course not good environments for learning. But when we measure what schools accomplish, comparing the scores of kids when they entered and when they left, measuring only the increase, not the overall achievement, moderately bad schools and very good schools aren't that different. There is some value in improving the schools, but it is not dominant.

Many assume, and everyone wishes, that if you just got those minority kids a fair shake somehow, going earlier and earlier to get if for them, that they would just naturally catch up, at least mostly. They don't.

It's a tangential issue to this one.

karrde said...

I seem to remember a study which said that children who eat at least one meal with their parents more than a minimum number of times per week have better educational outcomes than children who don't.

This, if true, is still only correlation. The cause could be that parents who care about their children (and education of their children) tend to have a family culture which includes regular meals together.

However, this does strike at another thing about education. Culture (family, ethnic, or otherwise) has a large effect on the way students study and learn.

And it's really hard for educational reformer to touch. Or measure in a study.