Paul L. Caron

Friday, May 20, 2011

Republican Profs Award More High and Low Grades Than Democratic Profs

Talia Bar (Cornell University, Department of Economics) & Asaf Zussman (Hebrew University, Department of Economics) have posted their forthcoming article in Applied Economics, Partisan Grading. Here is the abstract:

We study grading outcomes associated with professors in an elite university in the United States who were identified -- using voter registration records from the county where the university is located -- as either Republicans or Democrats. The evidence suggests that student grades are linked to the political orientation of professors: relative to their Democratic colleagues, Republican professors are associated with a less egalitarian distribution of grades and with lower grades awarded to Black students relative to Whites.


Press and blogosphere commentary:

  • Wall Street Journal, Republican and Democratic Professors Grade Differently: "The study looked at the grades of roughly 17,100 students, in 3,300 courses, from 417 Democratic or Republican professors, in the university’s arts and sciences division, from 2000 to 2004. Unsurprisingly, more than 90% of the teachers were Democrats. ... The distribution of academic talent was the same across “Republican” and “Democratic” classrooms, judging from SAT scores. But the Republicans gave grades of C-minus or worse 6.2% of the time, compared with 4% for Democrats. And Republicans awarded the gold star of A-plus 8% of the time, compared with only 3.5% for Democrats. ... On average, Republican professors gave black students grades that were .2 of a grade point lower than their Democratic colleagues, or about two-thirds of the distance between a B and a B-minus."
  • Carpe Diem, Partisan Grading: Democratic Professors Are More Likely to Redistribute Grades Than Republicans:  "One conclusion here might be that highly motivated, high-achieving students should prefer classes from Republican professors because it's more likely they'll be rewarded with a really high grade (A or A+), and less motivated, lower-achieving students should prefer classes from Democratic professors, because it's less likely that they'll receive a really low grade."
  • Inside Higher Ed, Red Grader, Blue Grader:  "Democratic professors appear to be "more egalitarian" than their Republican counterparts when it comes to grading, meaning that more of the Democratic grades are in the middle. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to award very high grades and very low grades."

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I find the inference very difficult to believe. There must be some hidden variables, such as characteristics of the course material.

Posted by: AMTbuff | May 20, 2011 12:04:39 PM

I'm still amazed that we're worried about students not getting there money's worth, and people are doing research like this. But I seem to be alone in thinking this.

Posted by: mike livingston | May 20, 2011 2:06:29 PM

Their money's worth, sorry, spelling still counts.

Posted by: mike livingston | May 21, 2011 6:37:14 AM


You might look into whether Republicans are more likely to teach science and engineering than Democrats. My experience in teaching is that the courses that require mathematical analysis end up with a bigger grade spread than the ones I teach where the goal is to learn critical thinking.

Posted by: TexasReds | May 21, 2011 11:45:23 AM

Like the man said, lets spread the wealth around a little bit...

Posted by: Skeej | May 21, 2011 1:46:53 PM

Agree with the previous commenter; these results are pretty much noise unless you're looking at multiple sections of the same course taught by different professors. A bleeding-heart liberal teaching Appreciation of Feminist Poetry is going to produce a rather different grade distribution than my physics and computer science courses.

Posted by: Southern Man | May 21, 2011 1:51:17 PM

Well it DID indicate Arts and Sciences school, so engineering wouldn't be part of it, depends on if the hard sciences are in the A&S or have their own school in the university...

But the distro is interesting if there where 376 Dems, and 41 GOP, are you sure there is enough GOP for good data? Wouldn't a direct head to head be better? They also threw out all the Indies, and people for whom there was no way of figuring it. I'd be more convinced if they left the Indies/Non in there for comparison.

Interesting to think that there is an A&S elite school out there that is 90% Dem in the faculty... what do you think they are teaching?

Posted by: D | May 21, 2011 2:31:32 PM

Interesting that they don't say whether the blacks that got lower grades had equal or higher SAT scores compared to whites that got the .2 difference. Are the R's racist for grading blacks down or are the D's racist for grading blacks up?

Posted by: Southern Woman | May 21, 2011 2:55:35 PM

What I find most interesting is at the left side of the graph. It would appear that the Democrat professors actually PUNISH the highest achievers--based on both the SAT scores and the Republican graders. Fascinating!!!

Posted by: The Savage | May 21, 2011 7:11:55 PM

Well, maybe no Republicans teach all those fluffy "truth is whatever you want it to be" humanities classes.

It's easier to give everyone a basically good grade when there are no standards.

Posted by: AzA | May 21, 2011 7:48:02 PM