Administration Backing Education Criteria in Hiring

By Mark Pitsch — June 12, 1991 4 min read

Washington--The Bush Administration is apparently drafting changes to federal employment regulations that would allow employers to tie hiring and promotion decisions to educational attainment and the results of aptitude tests.

Administration officials have been meeting in recent weeks to revise the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures, rules established by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to prevent workplace discrimination against women and minorities through the use of employment tests.

The guidelines currently prevent the use of aptitude tests and educational records in employment decisions if their use will be detrimental to women and minorities, and if they are not directly related to job performance.

Civil-rights advocates argue that the current guidelines keep employment and advancement opportunities open to women and minorities, particularly those who do not further their education beyond high school.

But Administration officials view the guidelines as an impediment to the encouragement of academic accomplishment.

A White House spokesman declined to respond to questions about the possible changes.

Removing Incentives

Evan J. Kemp Jr., chairman of the EEOC, said in a letter to John H. Sununu, the White House chief of staff, that the removal of academic standards in hiring and promotion decisions has taken away an incentive for students to excel in high school.

“The resulting lack of signals to students from employers that academic achievement counts removed the most basic incentive for a student to take school seriously,” Mr. Kemp said in the letter.

Moreover, Mr. Kemp argued that allowing employers to use education criteria in hiring will assist in achieving one of the nation’s education goals: preparing students to work in a global, technical-oriented economy.

It would also increase community support for education, he said.

“Numerous educational leaders are coming to realize that if the labor market were to begin rewarding learning in school, high-school students would respond by studying harder and local voters would be willing to pay higher taxes so as to have better schools,” Mr. Kemp wrote.

He suggested that Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander be consulted as the Administration revises the guidelines.

Establishing Skill Standards

America 2000, the Administration’s education strategy, proposes that employers pay serious attention to the educational preparedness of prospective employees and their scores on national achievement tests that the Administration hopes to develop.

The strategy also calls on business and industry officials to voluntarily establish job-related skill standards.

Barry Rogstead, president of the American Business Alliance, said the business sector favors the setting of skill standards that prospective employees would have to meet.

“We need to define the standards our students should meet and we need to decide where we stand up in regard to those standards, first in our educational system and then in individuals,” Mr. Rogstead said.

The alliance is one of several groups that are looking at ways to connect business skills with education. It is supporting a program called “Worklink” that would provide employers with detailed educational data on high-school graduates seeking jobs. (See Education Week, Nov. 15, 1989.)

The project’s manager, George Elford, who also is the director of the Educational Testing Service’s Washington office, said Worklink would serve as a recruitment tool, and not as a selection tool.

He said that because the Congress and the Administration are at odds over what type of civil-rights bill will be enacted--if any--the Administration should hold off on making any changes to the EEOC’s guidelines.

“We’re not alarmed at any of these possible changes,” he said. “We’re watching with interest. It’s hard to tell exactly how employers will be affected.”

Chester E. Finn Jr., a professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University and an adviser to Secretary Alexander, has been a strong advocate for changing the guidelines.

“If employers aren’t allowed to use educational standards, then one of the major forms of leverage over kids is frozen, and that’s a form of leverage to retrieve,” Mr. Finn said.

But Ellen Vargyas, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, said any changes made to the guidelines should not be arbitrary.

If educational requirements are used by employers, they should be only those required for the job, she said.

“Requiring high-school degrees for unskilled jobs is not the way to keep kids in school and to get kids good jobs,” she said. “In a way the message is even more powerful: You’re saying, ‘O.K., you can shovel coal. You can’t do anything else.”’

Ms. Vargyas also questioned whether the White House has the authority to alter the guidelines unilaterally.

The EEOC guidelines were developed in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1978 decision in Griggs v. Duke Power Company, which struck down employment policies, such as the use of educational standards or aptitude tests, that serve as a barrier to minorities or women.

The High Court issued a controversial ruling last year that shifted the burden of proof in such cases to employees. One of the primary purposes of pending civil-rights legislation is to shift back to employers the responsibility of proving that practices that adversely affect women and minorities are related to job performance. (See story below.)

In his letter to Mr. Sununu, Mr. Kemp said the Griggs decision made employers wary of considering high-school diplomas or test results in reaching employment decisions.

“This is one of the important reasons why youth do not on average receive significantly higher wage rates when they learn more English, science, and mathematics in high school,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the June 12, 1991 edition of Education Week as Administration Backing Education Criteria in Hiring