Not the language of scientists

Today, the New York times quoted an expert — a psychologist. Either that, or they reached for some random person halfway across the country to offer a viewpoint they really liked. But it seems like they wanted to have comments by a scientist. Here’s what the psychologist had to say about the fact that New York City admits more boys than girls to its top elite schools (which admission is apparently only by exam):

“It is very suspect that you don’t have as many girls as boys in New York City’s specialized schools,” said Janet S. Hyde, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin who has published research on girls’ performance in math and science from elementary school through college. Individual girls might be losing opportunities, she said, “but it is also bad for society as a whole because in a global economy we need to identify the best scientists and mathematicians.”

When a scientist says that something is “suspect”, what they are supposed to mean is that it might not be true.

“I discovered cold fusion,” I might say.

“That seems suspect,” the scientist might reply.

But Dr. Hyde (that was cheap — eds.) is not using the language of scientists. She’s saying that it’s morally suspect, and opining about what is good and bad for society. Which is fine, I suppose — people can opine about these issues, and people in one of my fields (Philosophy) make it part of their job. But if Dr. Hyde isn’t speaking as a scientist, then we’re really back to “some random person in Wisconsin thinks admitting students to a school based solely on an examination is a bad idea because they apparently think the tests don’t identify the best scientists and mathematicians.”

In which case, why do I care?

The question of whether schools should be allowed to use a single examination for admissions is an interesting one. I don’t think that the answer is obvious, and I encourage a lively debate in the comments. But I’m also pretty sure that the mere fact that these examinations yield male majorities in the students body doesn’t make them any more suspect as tools for identifying mathematical ability than nearly every college admission system in the country is made suspect as an indicator of academic excellence by the fact that they seem to admit more females. Different admissions systems measure different things — and as one of my former professors was fond of saying, “[evaluations] don’t measure what they want to measure, they measure what they measure.”

In any case, the question is certainly not going to be settled by the random musings of some person in Wisconsin who thinks that the tests are “suspect”.

(Of course, it’s not going to be settled by the random musings of an attorney-philosopher, either. But I’m neither trying to settle it nor being quoted for my expertise in the New York Times.)

Hard-working Asians ace admissions tests

Admission to New York City’s elite high schools is by test score only. Asian-Americans, who make up 14 percent of public school students, qualify for a majority of seats, reports the New York Times in Asians’ Success in High School Admissions Tests Seen as Issue by Some..

Civil rights groups complain low-income families can’t afford test prep. The city started free test prep programs for blacks and Hispanics, but was forced to open them to all students. Now 43 percent of participants come from Asian families.

Ting Shi, whose immigrant parents work long hours in a laundromat, used free test prep to qualify for Stuyvesant, the most elite high school. It’s 72 percent Asian, only 4 percent black and Hispanic.

In Asia, tests are “viewed not so much as measures of intelligence, but of industriousness,” students tell the Times.

Most of our parents don’t believe in ‘gifted,’ ” said Riyan Iqbal, 15, the son of Bangladeshi immigrants, as he and his friends — of Bengali, Korean and Indian descent — meandered toward the subway from the Bronx High School of Science one recent afternoon. “It’s all about hard work.”

No student, they said, was off the hook. Riyan, the son of a taxi driver and a Duane Reade cashier, and his schoolmates said their parents routinely plied them with motivational tales about the trials they endured back home, walking to school barefoot, struggling with hunger, being set back by floods and political unrest. “You try to make up for their hardships,” Riyan said.

Story ends with Emmie Cheng, a Cambodian emigre, who runs a shoe importing company. She spent $2,000 this year on tutoring programs and prep classes for her daughter Kassidi.

Cheng’s “father and four brothers died of starvation during Cambodia’s civil war.” In the U.S., her mother worked in a garment factory.  “This is the easy part,” Cheng said.