Keywords: affirmative action, mismatch, mismatch hypothesis, academic mismatch, legal education, bar passage, empirical legal studies, Richard Sanders


In a recent issue of the Denver Law Review, Professor Richard Sander presents data on race-based affirmative action that purportedly support his theory that any benefits African Americans enjoy from affirmative action are more than offset by detrimental effects of academic mismatch. Specifically, he references a yet unpublished study in which he claims to have found that for the years 2004-2006 the bar passage rate of African-American graduates of the University of Michigan Law School is 62 percent for first time takers rising to only 76 percent after multiple takes. This paper shows that these results are quite implausible given the best data we have on African American bar passage rates at schools similar in selectivity to Michigan, and then reports the results of an effort to replicate Professor Sander’s methods with more complete data. The replication yields quite different results as it indicates that during the years Professor Sander studied the bar passage rate for Michigan Law School’s African American alumni was about 78% on first attempt with a lower bound estimate exceeding 90% where there had been an opportunity for repeat test taking. Moreover, the data are quite inconsistent with the predictions of mismatch theory. Hispanic students, many of whom benefited from affirmative action, had about the same bar pass rates as white students who did not, and Asian students who did not benefit from affirmative action had bar pass rates not much different from those of African American students who did benefit.


Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research | Law | Legal Education

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