Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Following Up

with 4 comments

Well, let me start by trying to answer Mary F’s question first.  She says that it would be hard to deprivilege schools, because the trend to insisting on college degrees for jobs that don’t need them occurred more or less spontaneously.  It wasn’t legislated.  Private actors just decided to do that.

But that isn’t exactly what happened.

Private employers increasingly insist on college degrees for work that doesn’t require them for two reasons:

1) to try to insure they get the basic skills levels they need to do the work in a time when high school graduation no longer certifies that an applicant can reading with a high level of comprehension, write clearly and grammatically, and do basic arithmatic


2) to try to bullet proof t hemselves from EEOC enforcement actions.

It’s the second thing that’s the problem, not the first.

And it’s definitely been legislated.

One of the ways in which we privelege schools is in what we don’t do to them–we don’t hold them to the disparate impact rule.

If you devise requirements for a position that eliminate significantly more minority applicants than white applicants, you will get investigated by the EEOC to determine if those requirements are illegal and constitute racial discrimination.

To get out from under that, you must be able to prove that the requirements are essential for the performance of the job for which you are hiring. 

And since you’re dealing with lawyers and judges who do not work in blue collar trades or lower middle class business positions, you’re facing a group of people who basically don’t think that ANYTHING is required to do that kind of job.  That’s loser work, right?  That’s work ANYBODY can do.

Finding an alternative way to hire is the easy part. 

You devise a test, or set up a industry-run training system, to make sure you get the skills you want.

Plenty of private businesses are doing this now, especially in computer and digital work.

The problem is that all such alternative methods of evaluation inevitably  produce a disparate impact on racial groups. 

They don’t do this because minority students are stupid. They’re not.

By and large, my minority students are just as bright as my white students, and in a few specific cases they’ve been spectacularly brighter.

What they also are, however, is disproportionately the graduates of inner city high schools where standards are–well, to say “inadequate” is to understate the case so  much it’s ridiculous. 

Most of the kids from inner city schools who enter my deep remedial classrooms are ready at no better than a third or fourth year level and are writing at less than that. 

The amount of time and trouble it would take to fix that problem would be vast.  Nobody is the least interested in doing it, and at that stage it may be impossible to do. 

But, like I said, we  privelege schools.  Your school can produce graduates this unprepared, it can flunk out sixty percent of the students who walk through your doors, the impact can be so disparate it can resemble some kind of science fiction, and it doesn’t matter.

If your skills test eliminates a disproportionate number of minority applicants, you’ll be in trouble.

But if the local high school and community college does that–everything’s fine. 

Schools are automatically considered to be a “legitimate” sifting device. 

When it comes time to ask if you’re requirements for the job have a racially disparate impact on applicants, they don’t ask “what percentage of minority applicants for this job are rejected relative to the percentage of white applicants?”

They ask, instead, “what  percentage of minority applicants WHO HAVE THESE EDUCATIONAL CREDENTIALS are rejected relative to the same percentage of what candidates.”

And that makes an enormous difference.  If they asked the same question in the same way about your skills test–what percentage of minority applicants WHO CAN PASS THIS SKILLS TEST are rejected relative to the percentage of whites?”–you’d have no problem with the disparate impact rule. 

After all, demanding a college degree, or even “some college,” has an ENORMOUSLY disparate impact by race–we’ve just decided to call it “legitimate.”

In fact, such a requirement probably has a much higher disparate impact than  your skills test would, because your skills test would pick up skilled  males who don’t do well in the highly feminized regime in most schools.

But something is going to have to give somewhere.

And I still say the way to start is to insist on recognizing that schools are NOT teaching the skills they claim to be teaching, and that they therefore should not be allowed to claim they have before they’ve presented proof.


Written by janeh

June 16th, 2013 at 9:58 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'Following Up'

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  1. It’s getting TO the start which is the problem. You have to say–and make it stick–that your test is a better gauge of what Student X has or has not learned than his high school diploma at a time when powerful teachers’ unions are arguing that there is NO way to test what the kids are learning. And if such a test is adopted you now have a desperate impact based on test score, which the kid can’t control, and not on attendance which he can. Watch the unholy fuss whenever anyone requires a test for high school graduation.
    We also have a VAST network of colleges and universities with basketweaving and robo-American studies degrees which would be wiped out. Someone run the numbers, but I bet we have more college teachers and administrators than farmers or factory line workers, and they own a lot more legislators EEOC people. About three quarters of them will be unemployed the semester after we switch from credentials to testing.

    And, as you say, you have to convince our movers and shakers that the world is not divided into Ivy League doctorates and unskilled labor. Good luck with that.

    You are describing correctly what needs to be done, but you’ll have to turn out ALL the present rascals to get it done.


    16 Jun 13 at 10:52 am

  2. Should be “legislators AND EEOC people” of course. I’m still pretending that there are divisions within our ruling class.


    16 Jun 13 at 10:54 am

  3. All those regulations etc are strictly US and so I don’t really want to comment on them. I don’t think I know enough about them.

    I have noticed employers using irrelevant educational qualifications to simply cut down on the number of applications they have to review. This has happened in cases in which academic skills are nearly irrelevant – such as in jobs for unskilled and semi-skilled labourers – so an attempt to get people with a basic level of literacy isn’t what’s going on. It also makes a handy and unbiased method of setting up pay scales – as my father told me when I was a child, which wasn’t yesterday, the men hired to provide basic support for mineral exploration were paid according to their academic qualifications, which were basically nil. Maybe a few years of elementary school education, and that’s about all. But of course, men with, say, a high school education would be paid more, but be much less proficient in wilderness survival and knowledge of the terrain. However, allocating pay based on academic standing and years of employment beats doing in on the basis of personal preference, and possibly even nepotism or bribery.

    I was astonished at Robert’s list the other day of the limited number of universities your high officials attend. Then I realized I didn’t even know which ones ours went to, and did a quick and very unrepresentative online survey, which didn’t show any real pattern. We’ve got excellent universities, some of which are older and bigger and more famous than the others, and some of the smaller and newer ones have national or even internationally-renowned studies in particular fields. But it doesn’t appear that most of our Anglo leaders go or went to, say, McGill or U of Toronto. The current PM graduated from the University of Calgary, which I’m sure is a fine institution, but it doesn’t have the status within Canada that Yale or Harvard seems to have in the US, or even abroad, where they may be the only US universities people can name.

    I was mildly amused by the discovery that the late Jack Layton, a much admired and respected left-wing politician, had a degree from York, which is one of the few Canadian universities that I can think of which has a reputation for a particular political slant – left-wing, to be sure!


    17 Jun 13 at 7:09 am

  4. Kinda sorta relevant, but not exactly.

    Just noticed this, that might be a sign that there is still some common sense out there in Higher Education Land.


    I’ve just finished the book from which this article was excerpted. Excellent stuff.


    17 Jun 13 at 11:28 pm

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