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Thursday, November 3. 2022
Merit, say, for employment in my field, is relatively easy to assess. We want to hire people who are personable enough to be good colleagues, bright, eager, good writers and speakers, and easily-trainable. If they don't work out, they have to leave. We do not care about your golf game.
So, in my view, merit has to do with the right fit for a job or task. The right talent stack, as Adams would put it.
I know that many private secondary schools (the PSSAT) and, of course, still most higher ed wants test scores. The SAT and ACT are basically proxies for IQ or, at least, functional IQ as it has to be applied to a test. But is IQ a measure of general merit as a human being? Of course not. It matters, but how much?
Let's say you are head of admissions at a competitive higher ed school with far more applicants than spaces. Your job is to try to field a group of smart kids with enough talents to field sports teams, an orchestra, some math geniuses, etc. Fill each bucket.
What would you do?
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I would use a combination of recommendation letters, interviews and test scores to get a feel for whether a student has the ability and drive to succeed in my school.
But as someone who has taught college students for a long time, I can tell you that no combination of factors will always predict success. There are variables like family tragedies that derail even the best students.
Even test scores in a class don't fully determine how much knowledge you will retain after the class is over.
My lovely bride is a tremendous test-taker and she was valedictorian in both high school and college. I was consistently near the bottom of the top quarter of my classes because I didn't study diligently. Yet I retain a much bigger share of my coursework than she did, despite testing lower according to almost every metric.
Unfortunately, there is no perfect way for me to inventory your long-term memory to see how much you are carrying out of my class into the future. I can do snapshot exams to see what you've learned when we have finished a unit of material. But great test-takers like my bride will overperform while some students will make Cs but remember a lot of the information long after the class ends.
What is success? Being a productive citizen and a good neighbor, friend, or parent. Leaving the world a little better than you found it. Living with gratitude for what you have been given, and forgiveness for what you were not given.
No rocket science here. Notice, none of the above have anything to do with what kind of work you do, how much money you make, who likes you, or how big your vocabulary is.
One of the companies I worked for hired temps and evaluated them every three months for consideration of a permanent position. Usually this worked out. Resumes, recommendations, interviews and college transcripts just don't guarantee anything. Unfortunately the company did fall into the trap of diversity for diversity's sake and hired people based on skin color and gender. This turned out to be a textbook example of what is wrong with that politically correct choice. Almost without exception all the diversity hires were disasters.
Selecting on the basis of merits is the concept that underpins our market economy. We select from what is offered, and choose on the strength of the merits. Standardized testing is but one methodology, but it's a very good one in a large, mobile society.
Eliminating any concept of merit from the selection process means that it's no longer a selection process. It's a de-valuation: Instead of something on offer, on the basis of its merits, we now have a demand to accept on the basis of its claims, instead of an accepted proof of value.
It's the replacement of a market of offerings by a system of unsubstantiated demands. Don't go there.
I had a friend who was on the graduate admissions committee for a small but prestigious department at an Ivy League University. How they evaluated applicants was that graduates of Ivy League / Seven Sisters schools came first, then prestigious private schools (like Oberlin or Stanford), then they looked at applicants from highly regarded public schools like the University of Michigan, or Cal. At that point, they actually started to look at the application package: transcript, resume, recommendations, test scores, essays. That was the first level at which they bothered to look at the actual application materials.
Then if they still had spots left, they'd pour over the transcripts, recommendations, essays, resumes/CVs, and test scores from the remaining applicants.
So, a mediocre graduate from an Ivy League school with unremarkable test scores, meh recommendations, empty resume, and a crappy essay would be accepted before a stellar student with great scores and recommendations, a kickass essay, and who overcame unbelievable hurdles while working almost full time in the field to graduate cum laude from a second or third tier state school. If they were accepted at all.
It was disgusting.
All things being equal I'd look at the evidence of ambition, industry, work history, yes work history. The kid who worked in a auto parts store, steel mill or bar would get a plus over the kid that didn't work. In the ame way, the kid who tutored, worked for the elderly, volunteered at a shelter for dogs or church group would edge out the cheer leader or athlete.
Finally family circumstances. The kid whose mom and dad worked would have the edge on the Rockefeller kid.
But race, gender, religion as criteria would rank right up there with your height, eye color, and weight.
If an institution insists on taking skin color as part of the admission triage, perhaps they ought match graduations to initial entry scores on one or more standardized tests with Pantone. The 3d crosstab between lightness/darkness, entry score, and graduations might discover that we yellow perils fail to graduate with personality scores under some threshold. Naturally, this has to be longitudinal, and transparent, which, as you know, is wrongthink.
Well I certainly wouldn’t use the same metric for orchestra as my sports team. I’d evaluate my needs for each group separately.
The goal would be to maximize revenue for the school. So I will recruit potential NFL players who would donate to the school. Math kids who can (in the future) get research grants. Orchestra kids who will increase the prestige of the school, drawing more students.
Recruit an initial chunk based on demonstrated talent, rather than test scores. This gets you athletes*, musicians, a few artists and writers, and a healthy dose of STEM geeks. DO NOT recruit anyone who can't demonstrate satisfactory reading and writing skills--that's just pandering. Then fill out the rest with folks demonstrating some grit, in and out of school.
*talent+grit might get some interesting athletes, anywhere from skiers to skateboarders
It's funny you mentioned 'orchestra'. It used to be that musical auditions for the symphony were blind auditions, that is, the assessor did not actually see the musician play but focused entirely on listening to them.
Guess what? Blind auditions are now racisss. Quite a few 'woke' orchestras now embrace the full experience of see the musician play and understanding their physical appearance, which apparently has a profound effect on the assessment of their musical talent.
'It changed everything', they gushed, without a trace of irony.
Do away with the Ivy League legacies system and just plain auction off 10% of the seats. Conversely, 10% of seats guaranteed to 1st generation college students.
MIT tried dropping the SAT requirement. That lasted two years. They reinstated it and announced that it correlated with the ability to handle the academic load there than any other factor they could find.
I would pay the selection committee a modest salary with a commission and pension based on the success of the students they admitted.
If the student graduates, the selector recieves their base commission. If the student graduates with honors, they get a higher commission.
When the graduate gets a reasonably appropriate job, the selector gets a payment towards their pension.
When the graduate pays off their loan, the selector gets another payment towards their pension.
There are some obvious flaws is this plan in that children from wealthy families would be preferred as they would likely pay off their loans. But the overall idea is to change the entire college environment into one where everyone involved has skin in the game. And if we use both commissions and pensions then there are incentives for both short-term and long-term success.
As it stands today the incentives of administrators don't align with the success of the student. In some circumstances, institutions are financially incentivized when students fail to graduate. This has certainly been the business model for various training institutes.
No, no! That is reasonable and makes sense. No college would ever do that. No! Their answer is to create degree courses, like black or Hispanic studies, so that the low IQ students can at least pass. But excel!!! LOL. No one expects them to excel, they are just there to meet quotas.