Responding to Critics (1): A New Test of the Mismatch Theory:

The basic argument of Systemic Analysis is simple: if there is a very large disparity at a school between the entering credentials of the “median” student and the credentials of students receiving large preferences, then the credentials gap will hurt those the preferences are intended to help. A large number of those receiving large preferences will struggle academically, receive low grades, and actually learn less in some important sense than they would have at another school where their credentials were closer to the school median. The low grades will hurt their graduation rates, bar passage rates, and prospects in the job market. This is what I call the “mismatch effect.”

My paper tested this idea by comparing the outcomes of whites (who generally receive small or no admissions preferences from law schools) with blacks (who generally receive large, race-based preferences) to compare the outcomes of students who start with similar credentials. My results are robust and, as I’ll discuss in coming days, have withstood criticism pretty well. But I and everyone else agree that it would be preferable to compare blacks with other blacks. In other words, the ideal control group for examining blacks who receive large racial preferences would be a group of blacks who received smaller preferences, or no preferences at all.

As I discuss in my Stanford “Reply to Critics”, such a comparison group not only exists – we now even have data on their outcomes. After Systemic Analysis had gone to press, Ian Ayres and Richard Brooks at Yale pointed out that the Law School Admissions Council, in one of the surveys administered to students in its Bar Passage Study (a major source for my paper), had asked the students in detail about how they applied to, and selected, the law school they attended. About ten percent of the 1800-odd blacks in their study reported that they had chosen to pass up their “first-choice” school even though they had been admitted to that school. Most of these students apparently went to a lower-choice school because of financial aid offers or for geographic reasons. The data suggests that these black “second-choice” students had credentials substantially closer to those of their classmates. Compared to other blacks, these blacks closed nearly half the credentials gap.

These “second-choice” students are not a perfect control group, of course – no one was randomly assigned to attend schools offering different levels of racial preference – but it is about as good a chance to test the mismatch theory as we are likely to have for some time. If the theory is right, then the second-choice students should have better outcomes: higher graduation rates and more success on the bar. In the table below, I make predictions about how the blacks going to their second-choice schools should perform, based on simple linear assumptions (if blacks going to second-choice schools close one-third of the credentials gap with their classmates, they should close a proportionate amount of the outcomes gap, once one controls for index differences).

If the theory is wrong, in contrast, then of course the blacks going to second-choice schools should have about the same outcomes as blacks who took full advantage of the preferences they were offered. In the data presented below, we’d expect the blacks going to second-choice schools to do slightly better, since they somewhat better index scores than the average black law student (but this difference alone would only close about one-eighth of the gap in outcomes).

The actual outcomes look like this:


White Success Rate

Success Rate for Blacks Other Than Those Going to Second-choice school

My prediction of success rates for blacks going to second-choice school

Actual Success Rate for blacks going to second-choice school

Graduate from Law School





Pass Bar on First Attempt





Pass Bar Eventually





Proportion of Original Cohort Becoming Lawyers





These are pretty remarkable results. The “mismatch” predictions are either right on target or, in some cases, too low. The differences in success rates between black law students generally and those going to their second-choice schools are huge. As with everyone else, the black second-choice students’ outcomes depend heavily on their grades. But these blacks are substantially less mismatched than other blacks, and they get substantially higher grades (they average about ten percentile points higher in their classes – another outcome exactly in line with predictions).

Many critics of Systemic Analysis, when they come to the question of why black law students have such low graduation and bar passage rates, either offer no explanation or rather wearily suggest a “something about race” problem. These data offer a very clear example of how well blacks can perform.

There are two sorts of objections one might raise about this data. First, are the samples involved large enough to produce statistically significant, reliable results, or could these results somehow be a fluke? And second, is there some way that the blacks going to second-choice schools are systematically different (other than their slightly higher credentials) from other black law students? I think the answers are (a) the results are very reliable and (b) there are no alternative explanations for these results. But these require slightly longer explanations, and I’ll elaborate in my next post.