Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Too Many Asian Kids

That seems like a stark headline, doesn't it? But it would have been a better title to a recent New York Times story called "Racial Imbalance Persists at Elite Public High Schools" than the one the headline writers dreamed up.

As we've been talking about in recent weeks on this blog, New York City has long had a commitment to serving gifted kids from all backgrounds. This is a city of immigrants, and tales are legion of children from all kinds of deprived backgrounds getting into the city's elite schools for the gifted and succeeding wildly. Stuyvesant and the Bronx High School of Science, for instance, have produced many Nobel Prize winners.

Unlike many of the city's private schools, it's no mystery how one gains admission to the elite public high schools. You have to sit for the annual exam. Anyone can take the test; indeed, the city offers a program to prepare you called the Specialized High Schools Institute. If you score high enough, you are offered admission. Connections don't help you.

Net result? Stuyvesant High School does not "look like America." In fact, it looks a little bit more like Beijing, or Delhi than like any city in the US. Though the city's four major racial groups represent roughly equal proportions of those who sit for the test (28 percent of last year’s were black, 23 percent Hispanic, 30 percent Asian and 19 percent white), a full two-thirds of Stuyvesant students are of Asian descent. In other words, Stuyvesant is majority minority. But apparently its students are not the correct minority, because all sorts of city critics are up in arms these days about the failure to "diversify" Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and the city's other gifted programs.

As Daniel Golden pointed out in his thought-provoking book, The Price of Admission a few years ago, when it comes to education, Asian children are "the new Jews." Once, elite colleges conspired to reduce the proportion of Jewish young people granted admission, even though these young people often had stellar credentials and had overcome amazing odds (poverty, immigration, discrimination, etc.). A similar mindset seems to have gripped the diversity proponents criticizing New York's gifted programs. As it is now, your father can be a cook working in Chinatown after leaving mainland China penniless, and your admission to Stuyvesant will not be looked upon as a cause for celebration. Something strikes me as very wrong about that picture. Indeed, any efforts to further "diversify" the city's elite schools will result in fewer Asian children being granted admission.


LK said...

I read this blog often and am consistently angered by the attitude toward racial diversity that I encounter. I too agree that race itself should not be a factor when deciding admission to gifted or accelerated programs, but to deny that there is a problem, as I often read here, is wrong.

We are doing something wrong. Very wrong, when one racial group, any group, be it black, white, purple or blue dominates a classroom or program. Especially if that group is in the application minority.

Is the problem with the admission policy, somewhat. We do not need to lower our standards so that we can fill more seats or so that specific races can be more included. It goes much deeper then that. We need to find out what we, as educators (I am an educator) are doing wrong, because we are doing something wrong. There are a variety of theories or opinions. We can blame the parents for not caring, but research is showing that minority parents actually do care. We can blame the teachers for not doing enough, but we can give countless stories of great teachers who go above and beyond. We can blame admissions policies for not embracing diversity. We can blame blame blame.

But we must stop ignoring that a problem exists. There were too many Asian kids accepted into the program. This is a fact. Should we deny some of them admission so that other less qualified individuals can attend? No. But we must look beyond this specific situation and find out why the system is working for some and not for others. We must stop denying that there is a problem.

Yes, there were too many Asian kids.

Kevin said...

While I can certainly agree that educators are doing something wrong in not getting good results for the black and Hispanic students, I don't agree that there are too many Asian students.

When there are competitive admission schools, it is fairest to give the admissions to those who show themselves most prepared to do the work and benefit from the more advanced curriculum. If these happen to come from primarily from an identifiable subgroup, it is worth checking to see why. If the problem is an unfair exam or other admissions error, it needs to be fixed, but if the "problem" is that one group has put more effort into earlier education, then the "solution" is to emulate that group, not to blame them for doing well.

Note: I am not a New Yorker, nor Asian, so I don't have a dog in this fight, but I see nationwide attempts to close the "gaps" in education by shooting down those at the top, rather than aiding those at the bottom.

LK said...

Kevin, you and I are actually saying the same thing.

The too many Asians comment that I made is more in line with the fact that more Asians are making it to the point of being able to pass these tests while others are not. In that case, yes there are too many Asians at the school. If the other kids were able to perform at the same level then there would be fewer Asians simply because others had earned the seats they have now. Others would have scored above or at the same level. I do not advocate giving away seats in a program to those who do not qualify. My concern is that nobody else is qualifying at the same level the Asian students are, and that is the problem. It is about the achievement gap. There should be more minorities able to do the work and pass the test with high enough scores to qualify. It should not be top heavy with one ethnic group. There is something wrong with a system that turns out so many individuals from other minority groups that cannot score that high. These groups also have children who have the aptitude to do advanced work or who should be able to pass these tests. Asians are not smarter then the rest. There are other factors at play and they need to be identified and rectified.

Anonymous said...

What if the "problem" is that they come from families that are more educated, and hence, their vocabularies, and other basic knowledge - is simply higher than those who do not have such a background?

Anonymous said...

I think asians tend to outperform other minorities and whites in these programs not because they are smarter than the rest but because of generations of asians instilling the value of education in their children more than anything else. In their own native countries, they will not be able to succeed or earn a decent living without an education. Education is given such an emphasis above all else: sports, entertainment, arts, music etc. in these countries. I think this may be another reason why asians tend to excel in areas of Mathematics and Science and not so well in other areas since math and the sciences are considered to have a higher earning potential.
The previous commenter made a good point. Majority of the asians who immigrated into the country even going back a couple of generations are/were educated in the fields of Math and Science. This probably gives their children a slight edge over other kids.

Sandra Foyt said...

I'm not a NYC parent, but my Korean friend and I both have gifted daughters.

She has put a high priority on grooming her for the CTY SAT test for 7th graders. For the past several years, her daughter has attended a rigorous private school. However, she has done daily Kumon, and worked with ELA and Math tutors.

I haven't decided yet if I want my daughter to take the SAT this year. Although she also did daily Kumon in 3rd Grade, we discontinued that. Since then, she has taken an online EPGY ELA class one summer, and a Gifted Kids Network class last summer. Mostly, she's had lots of time for reading and writing on her blog.

Now, my daughter may not excel on the SAT this year, but she's had time to pursue her own interests.

Perhaps, if we had the option of special schools, I might make different choices. However, I'm glad for my daughter's sake that Stuyvesant is not an option in Albany, NY!

Anonymous said...

Sandra writes:

She has put a high priority on grooming her for the CTY SAT test for 7th graders.


As an aside, privately, CTY officials would rather you not prep your child for the 7th grade SAT. One told me, we'd love to see how these kids do cold. They're looking for that raw talent, the brilliant kids and they sure know how to nurture them.

My daughter, a CTY veteran (seven summers and three on line courses during a homeschool year) went in at age 12 and took the SAT flat cold.

That puts my daughter into a milieu of pure nirvana. We can't stop parents from prepping their kids for these tests. We can't stop parents from pursuing it for prestige.

But it's a a breath of fresh air when so many CTY kids show up for two reasons: they are plum smart and they want to be there. It's not about prepping and gaming a test, it's about finding a place where you can be yourself.

Where no one will think you are weird, where you can have lofty conversations about existentialism over mashed potatoes, and where you get to spend hours studying genetics, only to do sidewalk chalk a few hours later. CTY gets asynchronous development like nobody else.

Anonymous said...

My son wants to be there and is plum smart, but he also has issues around tests. He is not the best tester. I think that for some kids test prep is needed. Not for the skill building, but for the test taking. A simple SAT book or SAT quick course which aims more at test taking skills would make a difference for some kids who belong there but can be a bit apprehensive when taking the test especially in a group of larger older students.

It took my son two tries with the SCAT. The first time he was shocked walking into a computer testing center and taking a test in a place that was quite scary for him and in a medium that he was not used to. The second time, with help from CTY, we placed him in a less stressful situation and he did great.

So there is more then one way to think about test prep.

Anonymous said...

I am wondering if anyone has read the book "Outliers: The Story of Success" by New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell. It has some interesting ideas on why Asians outperform Americans in Math. He also talks about ethnicity and culture attributing to student's success.

The Princess Mom said...

LK wrote: "My concern is that nobody else is qualifying at the same level the Asian students are, and that is the problem."

Why is that? You seem to be suggesting that the public schools are choosing to only teach the Asian kids, which (I would hope) is patently untrue.

How can there be "too many" kids of any race in a gifted program? This should not be about appropriate education, not race. They're children, not tick marks in some racial profile.

Anonymous said...

LK is a racist.

Maybe there are too many non-asian minorities who seem to feel entitled to something without putting the effort into their kids.

While a very small population, large numbers of asians take the exam - that attitude might suggest something as to why the group is being accused of dominating the class.

Are you going to hand out sports scholarships on quotas next?

Anonymous said...

An Oklahoman newspaper had an article on gifted Asian students in public schools. According to the article, more than 30% of Asian students there were considered gifted, compared to less than 10% of students in other minority groups. Here is the link.

Anonymous said...

I am Indian and my child has been in the advanced classes right from Elementary School. I did not put her in Kumon or any other tutoring classes as I was always short of time. What did amaze me was how easily she used to get A's in school for what would be considered substandard work in India. My heart used to sink at her grammar, composition and spelling in English and her lack of showing step-by-step work and reasoning while doing Math problems. What used to irritate me was that I spent hundreds of dollars at "back-to-school" sales and my kid tried to fit all her homework in one sheet of paper!! I did not understand how the teachers accepted the math homework which did not show the step-by-step work.

I started sitting with her every night after she finished her homework and started to rework the homework with her. I taught her simple things like how the "equal to" marks must line up while solving a math problem, how she must show all her calculations on the right side of the answer sheet, how she needed to leave empty lines on the sheet after each equation she wrote so that her work was neat and she could review her work. These were things we were taught back in India - because the scoring system did not give us marks for the correct answer but for showing all the steps of solving a math problem. I taught my daughter and her friends multiplication tables by singing them to the tune of popular songs. I am now teaching her to write precis for improving her English. She started submiting 5-6 sheets of paper stapled together for each of her homework. Anyways now in MS she has got in the habit of being very organized and following the rules I set for her and is doing very well without any help from me.

A better partnership between parents and teachers is required. I look at the text books that these kids learn from and they are excellent - but the teachers never follow the text books in a sequential manner, so if a child is faltering the parents do not know where to begin helping them. The teachers and parents must be in constant contact on what is being taught and what the kids need to do. All over the world schools have a higher expectaion of children and they are being met. Children in American are not any less intelligent - it's just they are taught less than other children all over the world. This makes me nervous as my child is an American and she is being shortchanged in education by one of the richest nations in the world!

Anonymous said...

There aren't many Asians in MBA making millions playing basketball for living. It not fair! We should find a way for Asians to equally represent areas such as MBA so that Asians do not over represent academic arena.

Heck, let's make everything equally represented, starting with the Cogress and move on to Hollywood (entertainment) and so on. It's simply evil that Asians can't play like Michael Jordan or as popular as Brad Pitt!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps those elite schools and tests should begin testing for creativity levels as well as main subject areas. This will knock down the asian populations. Sadly, they are mostly test taking machines... so throw a wrench in...

Anonymous said...

The above comment that Asians are not creative is just another gross, dumb stereotype that white people throw around to comfort themselves. (I am white, an educator in the Arts, and I've taught many talented and creative Asian kids over the years.)

In the past, when the white establishment felt threatened by the success of Jewish applicants, they started demanding holistic admissions, giving extra weight to "well-rounded" students who excelled in sports, extra-curriculars, and "charisma." This left out students who were needed to work, help at home, or who simply did not have the money and access to enrichment activities. Asian families simply value education in a way that too few white, black, Latino and Native families do. Our popular culture is saturated with anti-intellectual messages. We buy our children t-shirts that say "my favorite subject is LUNCH!!!"

Kevin is right. We've already identified why Asian students do better--they work hard, hear constant messages at home enforcing the importance of education, receive support and guidance from their parents, and aren't trained to disrespect teachers. Why would anyone think that the solution is to shoot down those at the top rather than aid those at the bottom?

LK may or may not be racist, but if there's one thing I've learned in my time on this earth, it's to never take anyone seriously in a debate about race once they use a phrase like "be it black, white, purple, or blue..." There are no purple or blue people, and anytime someone uses that phrase, I have a very good sense of who I'm dealing with. It's not a turn of phrase used by serious intellectuals.