Ivy League’s Asian problem 

Asian-American applicants need much higher SAT scores to get into Brown, Yale, Dartmouth and other Ivy League schools, a coalition charges.

Asian-American groups want the U.S. Education Department to investigate Yale, Dartmouth and Brown for racial discrimination.

While the population of college age Asian-Americans has doubled in 20 years and the number of highly qualified Asian-American students “has increased dramatically,” the percentage accepted at most Ivy League colleges has flatlined, according to the complaint. It alleges this is because of “racial quotas and caps, maintained by racially differentiated standards for admissions that severely burden Asian-American applicants.”

It’s the Jewish problem all over again, writes Glenn Reynolds (aka Instapundit) in USA Today.

Decades ago, the Ivy League colleges thought they had a problem: too many Jews. These recent immigrants, from a culture that prized education and academic achievement, had an unfortunate characteristic: They worked harder, studied longer and cared more about school.

. . . Problem was, the Ivy League didn’t really want them. Being first-generation students, these applicants didn’t have rich alumni parents who would be likely to donate big bucks. . . . And they were seen as boring grinds who studied too hard and weren’t much fun.

 So the Ivy League favored “leadership” and “well-rounded” candidates — and, when that wasn’t enough, set quotas for Jewish students.

Now Asian students “are seen as people who study too hard, boring grinds who aren’t much fun — and, of course, their parents aren’t as rich and connected,” writes Reynolds.

Here’s more on the Asian-Ivy War.

Math excellence — is it just for Asian-Americans?

Elite math competitions are “overwhelmingly dominated by Asian and white males from middle-class and affluent families, observes Liana Heitin in Education Week. Some are trying to diversify the talent pool by exposing lower-income students, girls, blacks and Latinos to advanced math.

A U.S. team won the International Math Olympiad last summer, the first win for Americans in more than two decades. Four competitors were Asian-American and two were white. All were male.

Students at the Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program tackle a hard geometry problem. Credit: Evelyn Lamb

Students at the Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program tackle a hard geometry problem. Photo: Evelyn Lamb

Future mathletes hone their skills in “after-school clubs, summer camps, online forums and classes, and university-based “math circles,” or mathematician-led groups,” writes Heitin.

Middle schoolers start in MathCounts, then move on to an online school called Art of Problem Solving. Some K-12 students get coaching from math professors. UCLA’s Los Angeles Math Circle has more than 250 students. Elites go to the Math Olympiad Summer Training Program, a three-week math camp.

Who knows about these opportunities? Well-educated Asian immigrant parents make sure their talented children participate. “There are a lot of kids whose parents made it to America by being good at math,” said Richard Rusczyk, founder of Art of Problem Solving.

Various initiatives are trying to get more kids into advanced math, writes Heitin.

A New York City-based nonprofit called Bridge to Enter Mathematics runs a residential summer program aimed at getting underserved, mostly black and Hispanic students working toward math and science careers. The summer after 7th grade, students spend three weeks on a college campus studying advanced math for seven hours a day. Over the next five years, the group helps the students get into other elite summer math programs, high-performing high schools, and eventually college.

MathCounts has added National Math Club, which gives resources to middle-school math teachers, and the Math Video Challenge, a team competition, to appeal to a broader range of students.

After the high-pressure Countdown round at this year’s national MathCounts competition, in which the top 12 students went head to head solving complex problems in rapid fire, the finalists for the Math Video Challenge took the stage to show their videos.

Half the video finalists were black and 13 of 16 were girls.

An 8th grade team from the Ron Clark Academy, an independent middle school in Atlanta that serves low-income students, was among the finalists. The students illustrated a complicated multistep problem entirely through rap.

“Three years ago, we were the only African-American people here,” said Valerie Camille-Jones, the team’s coach. “We won the video challenge, and [MathCounts] put it all over the website. The next year, more diverse videos were submitted because [students] saw themselves. It’s exposure.”

Her students watched the fast-paced Countdown round in which 12 students answered high-level math questions. “They turned to me and said, ‘We can do this.’ ”

The Asian advantage

Why do Asian-Americans do so well in school? asks Nicholas Kristof in a New York Times column. What’s the “Asian advantage?”

It’s not IQ, writes Brooks, citing Richard Nisbett’s book about intelligence.

Columbia University’s commencement in 2005. Photo: Peter Turnley, Corbis

Columbia University’s commencement in 2005. Photo: Peter Turnley, Corbis

Chinese-American and white children with the same IQ scores were followed into adulthood by researchers. Fifty-five percent of the Chinese-Americans entered high-status occupations, compared with one-third of the whites, Nisbett writes. Chinese-Americans with a 93 IQ did as well as whites with a 100.

In The Asian American Achievement Paradox, Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou note that many recent Asian immigrants are educated professionals. But working-class Asian-Americans tend to do well in school too. That’s certainly true of the children of the Vietnamese boat people.

The “model minority” may be a myth, but Asian kids walk into a math or science classroom knowing their teachers will expect them to excel.

Kristof credits the Confucian emphasis on education.

Immigrant East Asians often try particularly hard to get into good school districts, or make other sacrifices for children’s education, such as giving prime space in the home to kids to study.

There’s also evidence that Americans believe that A’s go to smart kids, while Asians are more likely to think that they go to hard workers.

Asian-American parents have high expectations for their children. A B is an “Asian F,” kids joke. (Kristof says A-, but I think that’s extreme.) And a B is “a white A.”

Asian-Americans also are likely to grow up in two-parent families.

“The success of Asian-Americans is a tribute to hard work, strong families and passion for education,” he concludes. “Ditto for the success of Jews, West Indians and other groups.”

But their success does not “suggest that the age of discrimination is behind us,” he argues. The “black boy in Baltimore who is raised by a struggling single mom, whom society regards as a potential menace” will not be reassured by the success of Asian-Americans. “Because one group can access the American dream does not mean that all groups can.”

Shouldn’t that kid be reassured by the success of West Indian blacks?

Pass the test, earn a future

Tested follows eighth-graders prepping for the exam that determines who gets a seat at New York City’s most elite public high schools. Asian-Americans make up 73 percent of enrollment at the city’s elite schools, blacks and Latinos only 5 percent.

A+ Asians: Are they diverse?

Students on the Berkeley campus. Photo: Eric Risberg, AP.

University of California schools rank high for educating diverse, first-generation students, writes Alia Wong in The Atlantic. Banned from considering race or ethnicity, UC has kept tuition low, enrolled community college transfers and targeted recruitment at lower-income and first-generation students, she writes. “Latinos are now the fastest growing and second-largest ethnic group admitted to the UC system, making up close to three in 10 of last year’s freshmen class.”

But focusing on economic diversity lets UC win points while admitting many Asian-Americans, complains Wong.

The highly selective UC campuses are known, sometimes bitterly, to serve especially disproportionate numbers of Asian students; Asians famously make up half of the undergraduates at UC Irvine, for example . . .

California has taken in many Vietnamese refugees and low-income Chinese immigrants. They speak English as a second language, go to public schools in their working-class neighborhoods — and often qualify for state universities.

Other high scorers are the children of Indian and Chinese engineers, who aced tests in their home countries. (Check out the winners in Google’s Science Fair. Six of eight have Indian names.)

Lalita Prasida Sripada Srisai invented a way to use corn cobs to filter water.

Lalita Prasida Sripada Srisai, 13, invented a way to use corn cobs to clean pollutants from waste water.

Not all Asian-Americans — or those grouped with them in diversity data — excel in school, reports the Campaign for College Opportunity in a new report on the “model minority stereotype.”

Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have much lower success rates than students of Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese ancestry. Southeast Asians from Laotian, Hmong and Cambodian families also tend to struggle in school.

There’s lots of individual variation in any group. Look at Cuban-Americans vs. Puerto Ricans or black immigrants from the West Indies vs. American-born blacks. We could be more precise about divvying people into racial/ethnic/cultural groups. I think it makes more sense to focus on socioeconomic disadvantage.

My niece is an 11th grader starting to look at colleges. Should she declare her 1/4 Mexican heritage on applications? It has no bearing on who she is as a student or as a person. If asked, my advice would be: Don’t.

Princeton’s discrimination against Asian-American applicants is OK with the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, writes John Rosenberg on Minding the Campus. He analyzes a 20-page September 9 letter to Princeton president Christopher Eisgruber.

Asian students face diversity penalty

Playing piano or violin -- like the daughters of "tiger mother" Amy Chua -- fits the Asian stereotype, but hurts in college admissions, say counselors.

Playing piano or violin — like the daughters of “tiger mother” Amy Chua — looks “too Asian” on college applications, say counselors.

Asian-Americans have “turned against affirmative action policies” that make it harder for them to get into elite colleges, reports Frank Shyong in the Los Angeles Times. “In the San Gabriel Valley’s hyper-competitive ethnic Asian communities, arguments for diversity can sometimes fall on deaf ears.”

In a tutoring center’s workshop on college admissions in the valley, Ann Lee tells Asian-American parents about a Princeton study on how race and ethnicity affect admissions. Being black is worth 230 SAT points, according to the study. Hispanics receive a “bonus” of 185 points. Asian applicants are penalized by 50 points, says Lee. “Do Asians need higher test scores? Is it harder for Asians to get into college? The answer is yes,” Lee says.

For immigrant parents raised in Asia’s all-or-nothing test cultures, a good education is not just a measure of success — it’s a matter of survival. They see academic achievement as a moral virtue, and families organize their lives around their child’s education, moving to the best school districts and paying for tutoring and tennis lessons. An acceptance letter from a prestigious college is often the only acceptable return on an investment that stretches over decades.

Private college-prep academies counsel Asian-Americans on how to stand out. “Everyone is in orchestra and plays piano,” says Lee, founder of HS2 Academy. “Everyone plays tennis. Everyone wants to be a doctor, and write about immigrating to America. You can’t get in with these cliche applications.”

Crystal Zell, HS2’s assistant director of counseling, urges students to volunteer in poor neighborhoods and find activity other than tennis, taekwondo or chess.

“One parent asked Zell whether it would help to legally change the family name to something more Western-sounding,” reports the Times.

Some Asian-American students have filed lawsuits against colleges that rejected them, but admitted blacks and Latinos with lower grades and test scores.

‘Diversity’ keeps Asians out of top colleges

Do Diversity Initiatives Indirectly Discriminate Against Asian Americans? asks Andrew Giambrone in The Atlantic.

I’m not sure “indirectly” is accurate, but otherwise the answer is “yes.”

Students for Fair Admissions has filed a federal suit charging that Harvard’s admissions practices violate Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by discriminating on the basis of “race, color, and national origin.” A similar suit targets University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The suit cites an Asian-American applicant who was turned down despite perfect SAT scores and AP Scholar status. The applicant was the captain of the varsity tennis team, a volunteer fundraiser for National Public Radio, and tutored classmates.

Highly qualified applicants are routinely rejected,” writes Giambrone.

The Harvard complaint notes that Asian Americans comprised more than 27 percent of applicants at the three most selective Ivy League colleges between 2008 and 2012 but represented only 17 percent to 20 percent of their admitted students . . .  according to the complaint, Asian Americans made up roughly 46 percent of applicants in 2008 “with academic credentials in the range from which Harvard admits the overwhelming majority of students.” That threshold was defined as an SAT score higher than 2200, out of 2400 total points.

According to No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal, published in 2009, Asian-American students need about 140 more SAT points than white applicants, 320 more than Hispanics and 450 more than African-Americans to get into elite, private colleges.

“Asians are the new Jews” at elite colleges, writes Charles Murray.  In the mid-90s, when the Ivies limited Asians to 16 percent of enrollment, plus or minus 2 percent, Asians at meritocratic CalTech rose from 28 percent to 39 percent of enrollment.

If Caltech is too narrowly science-oriented for you, consider the comparison between Stanford, which uses the same “holistic” admissions procedures as the Ivies (“holistic” means considering the whole applicant, not merely academic achievement) and Berkeley, the most elite of California’s public universities, which is required by law to have a transparent set of criteria for admission. Stanford’s Asian enrollment averaged 23% from 1995–2011. Berkeley’s Asian enrollment averaged 41% during the same period—almost double Stanford’s.

Stuyvesant, one of New York City’s nine specialized (elite) public high schools, admits students based on test scores: 73 percent of  “Stuy” students are Asian, 22 percent are white, 2 percent are Hispanic, and 1 percent is black. And the admissions process is under attack as a result.

DoE seeks equality in AP, gifted classes

Tracking students by academic performance creates a separate and unequal school system, according to the U.S. Education Department, reports Sonali Kohli in The Atlantic.

Black students to be afforded equal access to advanced, higher-level learning opportunities,” the DoE’s Office of Civil Rights proclaimed in announcing an agreement with a New Jersey school district, South Orange Maplewood.

Proponents of tracking and of ability-grouping (a milder version that separates students within the same classroom based on ability) say that the practices allow students to learn at their own levels and prevent a difficult situation for teachers: large classes where children with a wide range of different needs and skill levels are mixed together. In many districts, the higher-level instruction in “gifted and talented” or advanced placement (AP) classes is what keeps wealthier families from entirely abandoning the public school system.

But . . . many education researchers have argued that tracking perpetuates class inequality, and is partially to blame for the stubborn achievement gap in the US educational system.

South Orange Maplewood in New Jersey will hire a consultant to examine why more whites than blacks are in advanced courses as part of a resolution agreement with the DoE.

In California’s Elk Grove Unified, 16 percent of students are black, but only 6 percent of gifted and talented (GATE) students are black. The district entered a DoE agreement to make GATE enrollment reflect enrollment.

Notice that Asian-American students are the most over-represented in GATE classes.

‘Fairness’ means excluding poor Asians

Making New York City’s elite exam schools “fair” means excluding lower-income Asian immigrants, writes Dennis Saffran in the New York Post. The beneficiaries are likely to be children of the professional classes.

In 2004, 7-year-old Ting Shi arrived in New York from China, speaking almost no English. For two years, he shared a bedroom in a Chinatown apartment with his grandparents — a cook and a factory worker — and a young cousin, while his parents put in 12-hour days at a small laundromat they had purchased on the Upper East Side.

Ting mastered English and eventually set his sights on getting into Stuyvesant High School, the crown jewel of New York City’s eight “specialized high schools.”

When he was in sixth grade, he took the subway downtown from his parents’ small apartment to the bustling high school to pick up prep books for its eighth-grade entrance exam. He prepared for the test over the next two years, working through the prep books and taking classes at one of the city’s free tutoring programs.

Ting got into Stuyvesant, earned a diploma and will start at New York University in the fall.

White, black and Latino enrollment in the exam schools has fallen as Asian-American newcomers — disproportionately poor and working-class — “have aced the exam in overwhelming numbers,” writes Saffran. “White enrollment at Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech has plummeted . . . dropping from 79 percent, 81 percent and 77 percent, respectively, in 1971 to just 22 percent, 23 percent and 20 percent today.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s call for “holistic” and subjective admissions criteria, such as extracurriculars and community service, will penalize students like Ting, who works after school in the family laundromat. His family can’t afford a”service” trip to Nicaragua.

“Subjective evaluation measures like interviews and portfolio reviews” open the door to unconscious bias, writes Saffran. Interviewers favor people like themselves.

Sure, the decision makers will do their best to admit a few more black and Latino kids (especially those from the same upper-middle-class backgrounds), but the primary beneficiaries will be affluent white students who didn’t study hard enough to perform really well on the test but seem more “well-rounded” than those who did.

Compared to the exam schools, the city’s “screened” high schools that use “multiple criteria” for admissions admit fewer Asian-American and lower-income students, Saffran writes. Citywide, the exam schools are 13 percent black and Hispanic, 24 percent white and 60 percent Asian. The top screened schools are 27 percent black and Hispanic, 46 percent white and only 26 percent Asian. Half the exam-school students qualify for a lunch subsidy compared to 37 percent at the screened schools.

The case for closing elite schools

At New York City’s elite Stuyvesant High, 71 percent of students come from Asian families, while 2.9 percent are black or Latino. Does it matter?

Elite exam schools like New York City’s Stuyvesant High should be closed, argues Reihan Salam, a Stuyvesant alum, on Slate. “Mayor Bill de Blasio, state lawmakers in Albany, and the United Federation of Teachers have called for scrapping Stuyvesant’s current admissions formula,” which relies on an entrance exam.

Seventy-one percent of students who made the cut-off in 2014 were Asian, often from immigrant families. Only 2.9 percent were black or Latino.

Some want to admit the top-testing students at each public middle school, ensuring that more blacks and Latinos — and fewer Asians — qualify.

Others would emulate the college admissions process, adding teacher recommendations, grades and portfolios of students’ work.

The politicians and the education experts who are so fixated on the racial balance at Stuyvesant neglect the fact that Stuyvesant is not built to support and nurture students who need care and attention to excel academically and socially. It is a school that allows ambitious students who know how to navigate their way around a maddening, complex bureaucracy to connect with other students with the same skill sets.

Hyper-competitive students thrive in the sink-or-swim environment. Others struggle to stay afloat. Salam wants to “spread gifted and talented kids across a wide range of schools offering different instructional models.” No school will be considered the best.

What’s wrong with letting very smart, very competitive students go to school together? Those who want a smaller, more supportive school have other choices.

Gifted kids are neglected, argues Checker Finn.