No need to be in the top half of the class
VOLOKH at law.ucla.edu
Wed Nov 29 13:30:27 PST 2006
I had focused on the effect on other students' perceptions, not on
the student in the bottom 10%. My sense, though, is that being in the
bottom 10% is often quite bad. First, it can be highly dispiriting.
Second, I suspect that it's the rare professor who can teach equally
effectively to the top, middle, and bottom of the class, and that most
professors mostly teach at a level that works well for roughly the top
middle. Students who are in the bottom 10% might thus not get a lot of
the material, and while they can make up for that by asking questions,
going to office hours, reading supplements, and so on, they often won't.
This might lead you to be less likely to pass the bar, and more likely
to drop out. Others, I know, have studied the matter far more than I
have; but this is my tentative sense.
From: conlawprof-bounces at lists.ucla.edu
[mailto:conlawprof-bounces at lists.ucla.edu] On Behalf Of Calvin Johnson
Sent: Wednesday, November 29, 2006 12:11 PM
To: conlawprof at lists.ucla.edu
Subject: No need to be in the top half of the class
My guess is that there is very considerable value in being in
bottom 10% of the class at eg MIT (to cite a possible example from a
wonderful Doonesbury this morning). You get very smart class mates to
learn from. Indeed if you are too high in the class, you don't have
people to push you, challenge you, raise your competitive juices.
I do hope it is not silly to be in the bottom half of your
class. If it is, then one half of the people at eg Yale, MIT, Stanford,
CCNY, Austin CC, NEIdaho State, and Slippery Rock have made a terrible
mistake and are in the wrong school. It is unfortunately mathematically
necessary that no more than 50% of any collection be allowed into its
top half. Somebody has to fill in.
Calvin H. Johnson
Andrews & Kurth Centennial Professor of Law
The University of Texas School of Law
727 E. Dean Keeton (26th) St.
Austin, TX 78705
(512) 232-1306 (voice)
FAX: (512) 232-2399
For reviews, chapters, discounts and news on Johnson, Righteous
Anger at the Wicked States: The Meaning of the Founders Constitution
(Cambridge University Press 2005) see
From: conlawprof-bounces at lists.ucla.edu
[mailto:conlawprof-bounces at lists.ucla.edu] On Behalf Of Barksdale,
Sent: Tuesday, November 28, 2006 11:04 PM
To: Volokh, Eugene; conlawprof at lists.ucla.edu
Subject: RE: Repeal of
Eugene Volokh writes: [Re Sanders statistics]
" .....Rick Sander reports that in "Tier 1" schools, the median
black student got grades at just below the 10th percentile in the whole
class. "52% of all blacks, compared to 6% of all whites, are in the
bottom decile.... Only 8% of the black students placed in the top half
of their classes."
In citing these stats above (which were based upon 1991
numbers), you neglected to state that blacks were less than 8% of the
students at these schools. [I suspected this, because the disparities
were so stark - these grossly disproportionate percentages are almost
always are the result of small sample sizes. And, I was right :-)]
First, the low number of minority students means that even
slight changes in performance by a handful of minority students would
significantly affect the percentages. In a class of 100, if two of the
four black students in the bottom 10% did better - the 50% number would
drop to 25% .
We also don't know the distribution of these numbers among
schools. Perhaps minority students did better at some schools than
Nor do we know how minority students did in other years.
Perhaps Sanders picked the year with the greatest disparities -
something that would be easy to do if small sample sizes resulted in
large percentage differences between years.
Secondly, your post implies that the minority students' poor
academic performance was the result of their presumably weaker
credentials. IOW, they did poorly because they were too stupid or
ill-prepared to succeed.
However, nothing in these numbers supports your conclusion.
Perhaps instead, it was in fact their small numbers, and their
likely isolation from the larger student body (a typical complaint of
minority students who are almost always largely locked out of mainstream
student networks) that adversely affected their performance . Such
isolation is particularly damaging in law school, since as we know
students trade lots of institutional knowledge about how to succeed in
law school that greatly contributes to their success. Students locked
out of these networks (even if it was a sin of omission, rather than
commission), face significantly higher hurdles to success than those who
are clued in.
These concerns lead many schools (such as Michigan in Grutter,
for example) to admit a "critical mass" of minority students [ that is
-more not less] - so that their experience is not so alienating.
If black student's social and intellectual isolation is the
problem - then your solution - admit even fewer black students - would
make it more difficult for those who are left to succeed.
Of course, the subtext of your post is that black students are
too dumb to succeed in elite schools. But nothing in your numbers
supports that conclusion.
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