Friday, March 30, 2007

The 2008 U.S. News Rankings and an Apology

I discovered yesterday, to my great dismay, that the version of my article on the U.S. News law school rankings currently posted on SSRN was the wrong version -- old and incomplete. In particular, it does not include the portions of the article on managing rankings and on improving U.S. News' methodology. On Monday, I will arrange to have the most recent version posted. My sincere apologies.

U.S. News' staff informs me that the new ("2008") rankings, made public today, were computed using a methodology identical to the methodology used last year. Even the equation used to estimate employment rates at graduation for schools not supplying such rates was retained unchanged. Although I plan to update my numbers, my analysis of that methodology therefore remains on point.

Based on a preliminary review of the 2008 rankings, the conclusion of my current draft continues to express my bottom-line views:

"What I have found most interesting in analyzing U.S. News' rankings are the surprises in the nitty-gritty details. It would be impossible to summarize even a small portion of those surprises here. I came to this project with the assumption that there was probably some core of validity and reliability to the rankings, despite all of our complaints. I leave concluding that that core is very small, if indeed it exists at all.

"Law school deans know that rankings management is a red queen's race -- one must sprint just to stay in place. In the U.S. News world, the race sometimes goes to the school with the greatest flexibility to manage its numbers and the will to do so. This is not necessarily the school that provides the best education for its students, the best working environment for its faculty, or the best graduates for prospective employers. But that is the world in which we currently live.

"I have made a number of recommendations as to how to improve the validity and reliability of U.S. News' rankings. I am not optimistic they will be followed. I conclude, therefore, by pointing out what many others have said before me: The situation will likely improve significantly only when multiple widely-read ranking systems come to compete.

"Currently, in my view, the ABA contributes significantly to U.S. News' monopoly. The ABA requires compilation of great amounts of information, thereby making U.S. News' rankings possible. But it keeps most of that information secret, at least within the time frames relevant to possible entrants to the law school ranking business. This secrecy, in turn, raises significant barriers to entry for possible U.S. News competitors. My ultimate recommendation to the ABA would be to post the most relevant variables it collects promptly and publicly on the internet and waive copyright protection with respect to that posting. Competitor rankings would inevitably spring up. Students, faculty, and employers would be much better served. And the world of legal education would cease to be forced to dance to a single piper's tune."


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