Friday, January 14, 2011

Why Standards?....

The question often asked is, “Why have such high standards”?

The question is often framed as though standards exist as nothing more than an “unfair barrier to employment”, and those who support them are seen as anti-egalitarian bullies.

But standards are vital for every single endeavor, as they measure both basic competency and compare competing candidates in the most cost-effective and deliberate way possible.

Without some basic standards there is no way to determine that any if a worker is even capable of doing the job at hand.

Incredibly defenses of standards are so rare (often those who support them see them as self-evident) that many have never come across one and that is very sad.

What are standards?

Standards are the basis upon which we base eligibility for various positions, from entrance into College and professional programs to various jobs.

Written standards are and always have been an integral part of that process, from written exams like the SATs and GREs, to various exams for various “open competitive” Civil Service exams.

The reason some positions are filled via an “open competitive” process is because they are open to all candidates without the basic requirement of a previously tested “professional certification”.

In lieu of a basic degree requirement or professional certification, an “open competitive” system is the only way to determine the best qualified candidates.

In reality it is no different than the various degree or professional certification requirements that also require written testing as a part of the degree and certification process (ie. via the law boards, CPA Exam, etc.).

What purpose do “open competitive” standards serve?

“Open competitive” exams are used to distinguish between candidates for professions like Police and Fire in lieu of requiring previous professional certifications. The reason such merit-based standards are so vital is that they're the ONLY way to forge the most competitive/competent Civil Service workforces, allowing such government workforces to be as streamlined and cost-effective as is possible. Less competitive workforces tend to be more bloated and costly workforces, as well.

Both the Police and Fire services are professions in which candidates are trained AFTER being accepted for those positions. For that reason, those Departments have traditionally hired in rank order from a series of open competitive exams so that they take “the BEST qualified” applicants over the “basically or minimally qualified”.

Both professions require 4 to 6 month training in their respective training academies and ongoing training thereafter.

There is a tremendous amount of reading required for both those professions and thus reading comprehension, even basic math skills (which applies to basic logic) would appear to be vital areas on which to compare prospective candidates.

For the past three decades a disturbing trend, in which both the written and physical portions of these “open competitive” exams have been diluted or “dumbed down”.

This has been done ostensibly in the name of “widening the prospective applicant pool”, but why and what is the cost of doing that?

First we must ask if the applicant pool has ever been unduly restricted. Going back over a half century, August A. Beekman, a black man who rose up the ranks to ultimately become Chief-of-Department and subsequently Fire Commissioner, scored among the highest applicants on a 1951 FDNY Entrance Exam that was far more stringent than those given since 1977 and Chief Beekman was raised in an orphanage with few, if any advantages in life.

Some may argue that “one exceptional individual doesn’t prove that such standards don’t discriminate against others”, but that assertion belittles all achievement, INCLUDING those of the likes of Chief Beekman! Everyone who competes on an open competitive exam has some strengths and weaknesses and every high grade is a singular personal achievement in that person’s using his strengths and overcoming his weaknesses in that open competitive exam.
So it seems that mere environmental disadvantage (poverty, bigotry, poor schools, etc.) can’t keep a motivated individual of any background from achieving. In that case, high standards don’t “discriminate” against anyone!

To even imply that high standards or written exams “discriminate” against any specific ethnic group is to insinuate that group’s innate inferiority!
Open competitive exams (both written and physical) don’t “discriminate” against any ethnic groups, they DO “discriminate” against individuals who are poorly prepared or just aren’t competitive enough to score well enough within a given field of applicants.

Can standards be “too high”?

If a given open competitive test were given and too few applicants passed to fill the needs of the Department, then the Department may well be faced with a sub-par workforce. Not everyone can be trained to be police and firefighters, that’s just a basic fact.

Standards cannot really be set too high, so long as there is there are applicants who meet those standards.

The goal of such standards should never be to target the hiring of a workforce that looks a certain way, but to deliver the highest quality workforce available. Candidates with higher reading comprehension levels, superior logic (mathematical) skills, etc. will generally deal with the voluminous reading material during training and beyond far more effectively and better conditioned recruits will tend to be able to handle the physical rigors of the job more easily.

It comes down to the old refrain of putting “QUALITY before QUANTITY”. Standards exist to focus on quality, NOT the quantity of representatives from any specific group.

Has the lack of standards ever resulted in any verifiable major problems?

In February, 2007 a 29 y/o female recruit collapsed and died during a Baltimore training scenario. “A 29-year-old recruit with the city Fire Department died during a training exercise yesterday as she tried to extinguish a blaze set by instructors in a vacant rowhouse in Southwest Baltimore, according to fire officials.

”Racheal Wilson, mother of an 11-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter, was inside a three-story dwelling when she collapsed about noon and was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center. She died shortly after she arrived, fire officials said.”

This is the kind of incident that tends to occur more frequently when standards are lowered.

High standards don’t discriminate based on race or gender, the story of Chief Gus Beekman proves that and lowered standards risk lowering the overall quality of such vital services.

It’s all too clear that the risks of lowering standards far outweigh any supposed rewards.


Skunkfeathers said...

The dilution of standards -- a purely liberal "leveling of the playing field", to force the nonsensical fantasy of "equality of outcome" -- has contributed to a wealth of deteriorations across the board in this country.

Dilute standards. Dilute ethics. Foster dependency and victimization.

This is the liberal udopia. And it diminishes all it touches.

JMK said...

You're 100% right about that SF!

That's why I think Conservatives ignore preferences at their own extreme peril.

It's a key issue.

The Left knows this and is fighting very hard in favor of it!

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