Expecting More Say

Expecting More Say is a 1999 report of the Center on Policy Attitudes analyzing the U.S. public’s dissatisfaction with its government. The report includes findings from a public opinion survey. One of the questions in the survey was as follows:

Imagine that a group of 500 American citizens was selected from all over the country to be representative of the entire US population. This group then met and were informed on all sides of the policy debate on a number of public policy issues and had a chance to discuss these issues. They were then asked to make decisions on what they thought was the best approach to these issues.

Do you think the decisions of such a group would probably be better or worse than the decisions that Congress makes?

66% of respondents thought the decisions by the representative group would be better, 15% thought they would be worse.

Conall Boyle on university admittance: (1) why lotteries?

I do not for one moment disagree with the principle that Merit alone should determine university entrance. Rather it is the form of merit used that I would disagree with.

Conall Boyle, Lotteries for Education

In Lotteries for Education Conall Boyle presents a case for using lotteries to supplement standardized test scores as the criterion for admission to universities. He first informs us that it is an empirical fact that such test scores (somewhat inconsistently, I think, covering both IQ tests and subject area exams) are not only the best predictor of university academic performance and graduation rates (explaining about 50% of the variance), but the only predictor of any validity (interviews and extra-curricular activities, for example, having no predictive power at all). Having made this point, Boyle sees it as his main task to convince his readers that having standardized test scores as the only entrance criterion should be avoided.

This task Boyle approaches in various ways throughout the book. In the ultimate chapter three arguments are presented:

  • A lottery is a “practical and efficient” way to handle borderline cases. That is, it is an easy way to differentiate between applicants whose scores are identical, or are so close that differences in their expected academic performance are negligible.
  • Accepting the top-scoring quota every year creates “inter-temporal unfairness” in the sense that the cutoff point will fluctuate from year to year. That is, a student with score x would be admitted one year, but another student with an identical score would not be admitted the next year.
  • “Balancing risk”: Boyle argues the risk of accepting students who fail to graduate should be balanced against the risk of the students who are not accepted but who would have graduated had they been accepted.

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