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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

How Asians excel: It's the culture

Harini Logan, 14, of San Antonio, Texas holds the National Spelling Bee trophy with her family. Photo: Reuters

Don't tell Asian-American achievers to stop working so hard, writes Neetu Arnold in City Journal. Don't complain that Indian-American spelling bee winners are "widening educational gaps." Instead, share the secrets of success: Stable families, high parental expectations and devotion to academics.

Immigrants from India see spelling bee success as a way to compensate for bias against Asian-American college applicants, wrote Pawan Dhingra, an Amherst equity officer, after 14-year-old Harini Logan won this year's Scripps National Spelling Bee. They outperform less motivated students, widening those gaps.

Dhingra also wants achievers to take it easy over the summer, lest they get even further ahead.

A nationwide campaign is promoting “educational equity” at the expense of academic excellence, writes Arnold, a senior research associate for the National Association of Scholars.

Schools in California, New York, and Washington recently eliminated their honors classes. Harvard implicitly set higher testing thresholds for recruitment for Asian-American applicants. And many universities no longer require SAT or ACT scores in admissions.
Educational-equity supporters believe that standards should change to adjust more effectively for “structural biases” against underrepresented minorities. They argue that honors classes make lower-performing students feel inadequate and give wealthy students access to better public resources. Students who excel academically do tend to be disproportionately high-income—but the solutions proposed by equity advocates focus on holding back successful students who come from the “wrong” background instead of directly helping students who struggle.

Asian-American success in school reflects a culture that values family, parenting and education, writes Arnold. Even immigrant families with modest incomes will invest in online tutoring or spelling study lists to give their children an edge. They will find free online resources or use public libraries. They expect a lot from their children.

"Canceling honors classes, moving unprepared students ahead, and implying that Indian-American students should play small is certainly not the answer," she concludes. "Life is not a zero-sum game. The successes of some should inspire others to do better, not fuel bitterness and envy."

Years ago, when Vietnamese refugees were new to San Jose, I asked a high school English teacher: "Is is true what they say about Vietnamese students?"

"Yes," she said. "All my best students are Vietnamese."

"But they just got here," I said. "How can they be the best in English?"

"They work harder," she said.

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