Category Archives: Education (K-12)

The Left’s New Social Experiment: School Discipline

Progressive social engineers are conducting another experiment — with Virginia’s African-American children as the guinea pigs.

The move to revamp school disciplinary policies in Virginia is gaining momentum. The National Women’s Law Center has published a study, “Let Her Learn: A Tool Kit to Stop School Push Out for Girls of Color,” which advances the argument that schools are unfairly suspending girls — disproportionately blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians — for violating dress codes or “talking back.” A group of “state lawmakers and community members” met Saturday in Richmond to “prevent discrimination in the classroom,” reports WVIR. And next, according to WTOP:

Change is in the works in Virginia. The Virginia Department of Education is scheduled to review a major revision to their student code of conduct on Thursday. The Model Guidance for Positive and Preventive Code of Student Conduct Policy and Alternatives to Suspension is meant to establish framework for alternatives to short and long-term suspensions.

“We’ve taken a great deal of time to develop those guidelines, and they really do focus on less punitive responses to discipline infractions, and increased focus on the supports that students need in order to be successful in the classroom and, at the same time, frames the entire context of school discipline policies and codes of conduct with an equity lens,” said Leah Walker, the Virginia Department of Education director of equity and community engagement, at the forum.

So, the overhaul of school disciplinary policies in Virginia, which began with selective Department of Justice actions against individual school districts such as the City of Richmond and Henrico County, could well be imposed across the state. The underlying argument is (a) that the traditional approach of suspending students for disciplinary fractions is discriminatory because African-Americans are disproportionately impacted, and (b) that schools must adopt a more therapeutic, “restorative justice” approach.

This week the Board of Education is scheduled to discuss revised “Model Guidance for Positive and Preventive Code of Student Conduct Policy and Alternatives to Suspension,” a document that has been under development for 24 months. The guiding philosophy of the Model Guidance is expressed here:

[Focus] on prevention and [provide] a leveled system of responses to discipline incidents that uses instructional, restorative and age-appropriate responses before resorting to exclusionary practices while respecting the social-emotional development of children at elementary, middle, and high school.

Bacon’s bottom line: Let me be clear, the traditional disciplinary system may well be outdated and in need of reform. I’m not defending every practice, every suspension and every expulsion. But I am concerned that these new guidelines are being driven by ideology with little thought to how they will play out in practice.

I don’t want to make hard-and-fast predictions because our society is so complex with so many invisible feedback loops that nothing ever turns out quite like anyone expects. Intellectual humility should rule such discussions. But here is what I hypothesize will happen:

  • The new guidelines will accelerate a continued deterioration in the classroom as misbehaving students are emboldened and as teachers, filling the role of social counselors for troubled youth, spend less time actually teaching.
  • Students in classrooms with disruptive kids will learn less, which will be reflected in their Standards of Learning test scores.
  • The students most negatively affected will be concentrated in schools with the greatest number of disruptive youths, which will tend to be dominated by disadvantaged or disability-suffering African-Americans.
  • The pressure to deny reality will be so strong that the negative repercussions will be ignored entirely, or will be cause to double down on destructive policies on the grounds that revised guidelines weren’t strong enough.

I worry that, in the end, a program designed to reduce discrimination against African-American kids who disrupt classes will disproportionately punish African-American kids who come to school prepared to learn.

I have seen no evidence that anyone else, not even Republicans, have picked up this theme. I expect that people are afraid of being labeled as racist. As long as their own kids aren’t affected, why would politicians take the risk of sticking out their necks? Given the absolute lack of push-back, I feel certain that the new Model Guidance will be put into effect.

Virginia is embarking upon a massive social experiment in which African-American children are the guinea pigs.

The Economic Cost of Disruptive Students

It would seem to be a common sense idea that putting disruptive students in classrooms would negatively impact the learning experience of the other students. But common sense rarely prevails against ideology, especially one as powerful and pervasive as the social justice movement to stamp out racial disparities in the rate of suspensions and other punishments in Virginia schools.

Based on common sense, I have argued that new justice-driven disciplinary policies, which define disruptive students as “victims” and keep them in class, creates a new group of victims — their classmates. Now comes rigorous academic research that quantifies the impact.

In a study published in the American Economic Review, “The Long-Run Effects of Disruptive Peers,” Scott E. Carrell, Mark Hoekstra, and Elira Kura exploited a longitudinal database of Alachua County, Fla., schools to track what happened to students exposed to disruptive students. The main conclusions:

  • Exposure to a single disruptive peer through five years of elementary school has lasting effects. By age 24 to 28, classmates’ earnings are 3 percent lower than they would be otherwise.
  • One year’s exposure to a disruptive student in a class of 25 reduces the discounted value of classmates’ earnings by $80,000.
  • Increased exposure to disruptive peers by children from lower relative-income families compared to higher-income households explains about 5 percent of the rich-poor earnings gap in adulthood.

“While there are negative affects across the income distribution, the largest effects are on those individuals who earn less than $40,000 annually,” states the study. “The larger impact is to move individuals from the middle of the income distribution to the lower part of the income distribution.”

Bacon’s bottom line: The authors do not comment upon the social-justice disciplinary paradigm being foisted on Virginia schools and schools nationally. Nor do they advance recommendations on how to deal with disruptive students. But the study makes it crystal clear that students pay a price — diminished education, lower test scores, and reduced income — when classmates create distractions and cut into teaching time.

In many instances, the disruptive students are victims — typically of domestic violence. There is an ample academic literature showing the children exposed to domestic violence are more likely to display aggressive behavior,  bullying, depression, animal cruelty, academic performance, and violence in adulthood. So, it’s not as if these kids don’t warrant some special consideration. But school disciplinary policies must acknowledge that keeping disruptive students in mainstream classes comes at a significant cost to their peers. Indeed, the failure to remove disruptive students from classrooms is a significant engine of social and economic inequality.

There may be a cost to providing special educational arrangements for disruptive students, but there is a significant cost for not providing those arrangements.

Is Reduced Truancy a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

In purportedly good news for the Richmond Public School system, chronic absenteeism is on the decline. Reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Fourteen percent of city school students have missed at least 10 percent of the school year, as of the beginning of the month. Last year, 16 percent of students were chronically absent. That means about 600 fewer students are chronically absent this year compared with last.

“Even one chronically absent student is one too many,” said Superintendent Jason Kamras. “But we’re heading in the right direction.”

Absenteeism is one of the measures adopted by the Virginia Department of Education to evaluate schools for purposes of accreditation. In VDOE data released earlier this fall, more than one in four schools received poor ratings for their attendance.

The reason I say that this is “purportedly” good news for Richmond city schools is that I am not persuaded that rounding up absentee kids and putting them back in school does anything to (a) increase their learning, or (b) help the learning of their classmates. Compelling a kid to park his (or her) carcass in a school building is no guarantee that they won’t skip class and just hang out, or, if they do enter the classroom, that they won’t disrupt the proceedings out of boredom or resentment for having been forced to be there.

While it makes educational bureaucrats delighted to see reduced absenteeism, someone might want to ask teachers how happy they are to have chronic school-skippers back in the classroom.

There are ways to track the effects of bringing truants back into school. Schools maintain records on disciplinary infractions. One might predict an increase in disciplinary infractions and disciplinary actions as a result of schools’ “success” in reducing absenteeism. Of course, in the real world we live in, Richmond Public Schools have adopted a therapeutic approach to dealing with disruptive students. Under tremendous pressure to reduce the number of disciplinary actions, teachers and principles may not report infractions that they would have in the past. So, there is no guarantee that increased misbehavior, if it occurs, will show up in the statistics.

Here’s what will show up in the statistics. Teachers will burn out more quickly, and many will quit schools where disciplinary issues are the worst. This will be reflected in a higher rate of churn. While schools don’t publish teacher turnover as a metric, they do publish numbers on district-wide teacher shortfalls. As discipline deteriorates, we might expect shortfalls to intensify.

Another potential effect will be deteriorating classroom conditions. Students who want to learn are deprived of instructional time as teachers devote more attention to troublemakers. If students learn less, they will score worse in standardized tests.

I may be totally wrong. Reducing absenteeism may lead to felicitous educational outcomes for everyone. But there will be no way to tell if I’m right or wrong because schools aren’t performing the requisite analysis to find out. Until such analysis is made available, Richmond schools are acting in blind faith that they’re doing more good than harm.

The Forgotten Literary Fund

One of the many debates expected in the 2019 General Assembly of Virginia, which is coming at us like a freight train, will focus on school construction funding and the need for a dedicated source of revenue to repair or replace old or dilapidated local facilities.

Proponents have latched onto additional sales tax revenue that would flow from expanding the tax to more out-of-state retailers who sell into Virginia via the internet.  Earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court overturned precedents and set some ground rules that Virginia could easily adopt for 2019, forcing more retailers around the country to collect and remit Virginia sales tax.

During months of public discussion of this issue, one key element has been ignored.  Virginia already has a dedicated funding source for school construction, one that produces $260 million a year.   Historically those funds have leveraged very low-cost bonds for new schools across the Commonwealth and built much of the existing stock of school facilities.

This is the State Literary Fund, enshrined in the Constitution of Virginia and the source of amusement to insiders, who joke when they pay a traffic fine that they are “making a contribution to the Literary Fund.”

According to the Treasurer of Virginia the Literary Fund collected $264 million during the last fiscal year, most of it from unclaimed property ($165 million), unclaimed lottery prizes ($14 million) and court fines, fees and forfeitures ($52 million.)  It also received more than $23 million back from local school divisions as principal and interest on earlier revolving loans.

Wouldn’t $264 million per year leveraged through low-interest government financing support a healthy construction and repair program?  It would indeed, but only two projects have been funded with this money in a decade, both earlier this year.  They were the first since 2008.  A report to the most recent meeting of the State Board of Education listed 19 deferred applications seeking $83 million, the most recent from 2013.

Instead of building schools the money is used to pay for school equipment ($72 million, also through bonds) and for deposit into the Virginia Retirement System for teacher retirement ($181 million.) Using Literary Funds to pay for VRS means that much less money needs to be found from state or local taxes, which can then be spent on something else.  School divisions no longer view the Literary Fund as a construction funding source.

The fund would be substantially larger, but in 1990 the General Assembly proposed, and the voters approved, an amendment to that provision allowing criminal forfeitures to divert from the Literary Fund and be spent on law enforcement instead.   As with payments to VRS, this is also a way to take pressure off tax funds.

So as the debate kicks up, key points to remember include:

Virginia does have a fund for this purpose already, but the General Assembly has chosen to spend it otherwise. It could revisit that choice.

It might be more logical to use any new sales tax revenue to pay for the General Fund function of funding teacher retirements, so the Literary Fund can return to paying for new or improved school buildings.

It might be worth discussing whether that pile of loot collected under the criminal forfeiture procedures should be returned to its original home with the Literary Fund and help pay for schools.

This overlaps with the debate over unpaid fines and fees, which are collected with the help of a very unpopular practice of suspending debtors’ driving licenses. Abandoning the effort to collect that revenue is walking away from major revenue for the Literary Fund.

Is Increased Poverty the Cause of Declining SOL Scores?

The first column of % figures shows “Year 1” data and the second column shows “Year 5” data for low-income Virginians. Source: School Readiness Report Card searchable database.

The Virginia Early Childhood Foundation has published a new biennial School Readiness Report Card exploring the relationship between childhood risk factors and educational outcomes across Virginia. The Foundation’s big argument, cast cautiously as “one plausible interpretation” of the data, is that recent declines in SOL results can be attributed to a rise in the number of children born into poverty in previous years.

Starting in school year 2013-14, each pool of students taking the PALS-K has included a far greater number of students than in previous years who lived in poverty for their entire first five years of life. This will be true of all succeeding cohorts for the next 5-6 years. … Children with prolonged exposure to poverty are more likely to start school already behind, hence a dip in average PALS-K scores and “Pass” rates, while unwelcome, is not unexpected.

(PALS stands for Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening.)

This interpretation contrasts with the argument I have advanced on this blog that the recent decline in SOL scores coincides with spreading classroom disorder caused by the transition in many school districts from traditional disciplinary methods to a therapeutic approach that consumes teachers’ attention and diverts from time devoted to classroom instruction.

The Foundation’s argument is a not-implausible one. Moreover, I applaud the authors for couching their conclusion as merely “one interpretation” of the data. The authors concede, “It is difficult to make confident assertions regarding the effectiveness and progress of Virginia’s recent school readiness efforts.” I also applaud the Foundation for making accessible data in an interactive database that others can use to reach their own conclusions.

However, I read the data differently, and I invite Bacon’s Rebellion readers to weigh in with their own take on the data.

But first, let’s discuss what we agree on. Poor children comprise a growing percentage of the school population. Poverty is highly correlated with lower levels of educational achievement. Therefore, an increasing percentage of poor children in the schools will be reflected by depressed educational achievement as measured by SOL pass rates.  So far, so good.

The authors see the problem as children “living in poverty” for the first five years of their lives. The emphasis on poverty, a measure of income reported to the Internal Revenue Service, as opposed to “living in households headed by mothers with less than 12 years education” implies that a household’s material poverty, or lack of material resources, is the problem. This analysis fails to take into account the vast array of resources that the welfare state provides poor mothers with children.

It is far more productive, I would suggest, to focus on the educational level of the mother. Statewide, the percentage of births to less-than-high-school mothers decreased marginally from 9.7% over the five-year period covered to 9.5%. Among low-income mothers, the percentage increased from 81.5% to 83.3%. 

A mother who has failed to graduate from high school is significantly less likely to provide the home environment conducive to early learning — teaching numbers, colors, and ABCs — as a mother who has graduated from high school, college, or an advanced degree program. Teaching ABCs does not require financial resources. It does not require a laptop or high-speed bandwidth. It requires a willingness of the mother to spend time teaching the child things that even poorly educated, low-income women know.

As the economy continues to expand and the job picture improves, creating employment opportunities for even the most unskilled of workers, we can expect to see a decline in “poverty.” However, we don’t know if a decline in poverty may will be matched by a commensurate decline in the percentage of less-than-high-school mothers having children, which I believe is a much more important variable. If the children living in “poverty” level declines but the children living with less-than-high-school mothers does not, I would predict that we will continue to see deteriorating SOL scores.

Another point: the School Readiness Report Card data show declining 3rd grade SOL failure rates in Years 2 and 3, but then increasing failure rates in years 4 and 5. How does the Foundation’s theory account for that abrupt about-face?

The Report Card does not show failure rates for other grades. If we see the same patterns — declining failure rates three-four years ago then suddenly higher failure rates in upper grades in the past two years — then something other than an increase in children born into poverty five years previously must be responsible. My theory would predict that deteriorating classroom discipline would manifest itself in middle school and high school far more forcefully than in elementary school and, therefore, that the decline in SOL scores would be sharper in the upper grades. I have not checked the data, however, so I do not know that to be the case.

While I may disagree with the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation’s conclusions, I appreciate its willingness to publish the data behind its report and the authors’ caution in drawing hard-and-fast conclusions.

Why Aren’t Asian Kids the Benchmark for School Achievement?

Tiger mom Amy Chua and her children.

I was doing my wonky thing, reading a presentation by an outfit called Strategy Labs to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the future competitiveness of Virginia higher education. And I came across a slide (page 10 in the PDF) that emphasizes the different levels of attainment between ethnic groups. States the slide: “Virginia’s Black, Hispanic, and Native American populations’ attainment are on average ~20 points behind White majority population attainment.”

That annoyed me. No mention of Asians, who account for about 8% of Virginia’s student population. Why is the attainment gap always shown to be between blacks, Hispanics and whites when, by the same measures, Asians are the highest-achieving group? Why isn’t the issue framed as gaps between blacks, Hispanics, Indians, and whites on the one hand and Asians as the benchmark achievers on the other?

The answer is evident: Framing the issue as a gap between whites and “brown people” minorities buttresses the dominant narrative that the problem in K-12 education today is one of race — or, to be more precise, unequal treatment of the races — rather than personal and familial responsibility. To frame the issue using Asians as the benchmark would ask us to ask an entirely different set of questions.

Everyone knows that Asians comprise the highest-achieving racial/ethnic group. But if all you do is focus on the total SOL pass rate, you can’t grasp the full dimensions of Asian academic superiority. That comes through only if you look at the yawning gap between Asians and everyone else — especially in math — for “advanced” test scores.

(To see the pass rates for English writing, history, and science, click on the “Continue Reading” button below.)

If you don’t trust the SOLs, consider the SAT college-placement exams. As seen in the chart below, Asian students are equally dominant.

The table above is hard to read, so you’ll need to click on the image to view a legible version. Check out the “Total” mean scores for each group. Asians rule. No wonder Harvard has Asian quotas.

Asians in Virginia are a diverse group encompassing many nationalities, including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Filipinos, and South Asians (both Hindu and Muslim). Some are sons and daughters of wealthy parents who sent them to U.S. universities to get a world-class education. Many arrived as penniless refugees, like the Vietnamese and Cambodians. Or, like many Koreans I have met in Richmond, they took humble occupations like grocers and seamstresses, made sacrifices for their children, and demanded the children make sacrifices in return to rise up the socioeconomic ladder.

What they all share is a familial culture that values intact family structures, academic achievement, self-discipline, and a propensity to defer gratification. More than any other group, Asians embody the traditional virtues that made this country great. As epitomized by the famous “tiger mom” Amy Chua (pictured above), Asian parents expect more and demand more of their children than other Americans do.

Perhaps we should be asking ourselves if there are social and cultural attributes that make Asian students more successful. If so, should other students embrace those attributes? Perhaps Virginia educators also should start benchmarking other racial/ethnic groups against Asians and asking how we can bring the other 92% of the population, including whites, up to their level?

Continue reading

Can Charter Schools Reverse Richmond’s Enrollment Decline?

Richmond city schools enrollment by grade.

Virginia is notorious for its hostility toward charter schools. In the Old Dominion, charter schools must be approved by local school boards, which see educational alternatives as a threat rather than a potential blessing. Virginia has a grand total of eight charter schools, compared to 88 in New Jersey, a state with comparable school enrollment.

Among the commonly cited reasons for opposing charter schools is that they siphon away money from non-chartered public schools. The questionable assumption here is that existing schools can do a better job with the money than the charter schools can.

In the City of Richmond, which has the worst schools in the entire state (excepting possibly Petersburg), the School Board has permitted two charter schools, including one for kids with cognitive disabilities. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, a strong majority of school board members opposes creation of any more.

“In order to deliver on the promise of the American dream, we must aim for a public education system where every school is a good school,” said Kenya Gibson, who represents the city’s 3rd District, when running for School Board last year. “Corporate reforms, including the charter industry, are antithetical to this goal.”

Here’s a question for Gibson and others who oppose charter schools: Which drains more resources from Richmond Public Schools — a couple of charter schools or a school system that is so atrociously bad that every parent who can afford to do so sends their kids to private school or moves to a neighboring county?

The chart above, created by John Butcher of Cranky’s Blog fame, shows how enrollment remains strong in elementary schools, nine of which meet the benchmark for accreditation on the reading tests. Then in middle schools, educational attainment plummets — and, not surprisingly, so does enrollment. Each student who leaves represents the loss of thousands of dollars in state funds. How much money is the school district bleeding because of this exodus?

What if creating a charter middle school helped reverse plummeting enrollment and brought more money into the school district? When you have the worst schools and worst academic attainment in the entire state, isn’t it time to try something new?

Fun with Statistics: English Learners Edition

In our ongoing effort to make Bacon’s Rebellion the wonkiest, pointy-headiest media outlet ever dedicated to Virginia public policy, I present the graph above created by the John Butcher, the mastermind of Cranky’s Blog and frequent Bacon’s Rebellion collaborator.

Inspired by our previous posts about the performance of English Learners (sometimes referred to ESL, or English as a Second Language, students) on Virginia’s Standards of Learning tests, John ginned up this graph. He breaks down Virginia students into four categories (with “disadvantaged” being defined as students eligible for free/reduced cost meals programs):

  • ND NEL (blue) — non-disadvantaged, non-English Learners
  • ND EL (green) — non-disadvantaged, English Learners
  • D NEL (orange) — disadvantaged, non-English Learners
  • D EL (red) — disadvantaged, English Learners

The graph plots the number of Virginia school divisions against the percentage of students within each category that passed the English reading SOLs.

None of this will come as a surprise to anyone, but native English speakers tend to have higher SOL pass rates than English Learners, and non-economically disadvantaged students have higher pass rates than disadvantaged students. Those who suffer the drawbacks of being both disadvantaged and being an English Learner have the lowest pass rates, while those who suffer neither drawback have the highest rates.

While that may seem too obvious for words, here’s what’s not: There is considerable variability within each category. Indeed, there is so much variability that there are a handful of school districts where disadvantaged English Learners pass the SOLs at higher rates than non-disadvantaged, non-English Learners at a handful of other school districts.

Translation into everyday language: Coming from a poor household and learning to speak, read, and write English is not an academic death sentence. Some schools and school districts clearly out-perform others in helping these students succeed. Wouldn’t it be interesting if someone identified these schools and districts and inquired what they are doing differently?

(An aside: In the material he sent me, John notes, “These are Gaussian curves calculated from the means and standard deviations of the data. The actual distributions are skewed, not Gaussian. These curves merely serve to provide a quick visual indication of the average and spread of each of each set of data.” If you want to argue with his presentation, take it up with him — not me. I’ve still got a lot to learn.)

Yes, Virginia High School Grads Did Out-Perform on their SATS

Table source: Virginia Department of Education

Here we go again. The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) has released SAT college-readiness test scores for Virginia high school graduates. And just as Virginia’s young people clobbered their peers nationally in the ACT college-readiness test scores, so they did in the SATs.

As can be seen in the table above, Virginia scores for public school students were higher in every category for both reading & writing across the four main racial/ethnic categories.

“We now have two years of performance data from the revised SAT and Virginia students continue to outperform their nationwide peers by wide margins,” Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said in a press release. 

Of course, there’s more than meets the eye to these statistics. In a recent post (“More Test Score Sleight of Hand“) I showed how Virginia’s higher test scores in the ACT exams could be attributed largely to a lower percentage of students taking the exam than in other states. As I explained: “When participation is so discretionary, it is safe to assume that the Virginia test-takers are a highly self-selected group —  more serious about going to college, better prepared academically, and more likely to earn high ACT scores.”

I wondered. Are we seeing the same thing in the SATs?

This year 68% of all Virginia high school graduates took the SATs — significantly more than the 36% average for the nation. One would expect that differential to depress Virginia scores, making the higher average scores for Virginia students all the more impressive. So, perhaps VDOE was justified in crowing about the positive results.

But comparing Virginia to the national average is tricky. The national average reflects some wild extremes. The SAT participation rate varies from 2% in South Dakota to 100% in Delaware and Colorado. Only a modest number of states had participation rates in the middling range that Virginia did. Therefore, for the benefit of discerning Bacon’s Rebellion readers who want a deeper level of analysis, I have compared Virginia to other states with comparable participation rates. Further, because SAT scores vary by race/ethnic group and the preponderance of those groups vary by state, I also compare Virginia whites, Asians, African-Americans and Hispanics to their peers in other states.

(Literally, as I write these words, I do not know what the results will be. Drum roll, please…)

And the results are in!

With this methodology Virginia still comes out ahead of its peers with comparable participation rates. The performance gap isn’t as wide as depicted in the VDOE data comparing Virginia against national averages, but it’s still pretty convincing. Not only is the average score for all students higher than any of its peers (except Vermont, which I’ll discuss below), Virginia students of each racial/ethnic category almost uniformly out-perform their peers in other states.

(Hey, Amazon, see that? Virginia’s high school grads got higher SATs than the state of Washington’s!)

Bacon’s bottom line: I’ve never hesitated to chastise the VDOE for the way it puts a  happy face on its data. But in this case, the Department appears to have exaggerated Virginia’s superior performance only slightly by making comparisons to the nation as a whole rather than states with like participation rates. If you accept the validity of SAT test scores as a predictor of college academic performance, it is fair to say that Virginia high school graduates are, in fact, better prepared overall for college than their peers in other states.

(The only one of the peer states to outperform Virginia on average SAT scores for all students was Vermont. According to College Board date, Vermont scored 112o compared to 1117 for Virginia. Yet Virginia Asians outperformed Vermont Asians, as did whites and blacks, while only Vermont’s Hispanics, constituting a mere 3% of the test takers, outperformed Virginia’s. That doesn’t add up. I’ve double-checked the College Board numbers. No typos. I have no explanation for the anomaly.)

Virginia’s Not-So-Crazy Rich Asians

Graph credit: StatChat

Once the victims of discrimination, Asians now are prospering in the United States. The median income in 2017 for Asians in the United States was $83,500. That compared to a national average of $60,300 — a 38% differential.

In Virginia, Asians’ incomes, and the income gap with other Americans, was even greater: $101,500 compared to $71,500, a 42% differential. Indeed, Virginia is the state with the second highest average median household income for Asians, second only to New Jersey.

Why do Asians out-perform other racial and ethnic groups? One reason is that they cluster in urban areas, where wage levels are higher. You don’t see many Asian farmers or mill workers in the United States. (When I lived in Martinsville nearly 40 years ago, I knew a Korean textile mill foreman, a former bodyguard of a South Korean dictator, who had been exiled for some reason that I can no longer remember. But his family was the only Korean household in town.)

Another reason, according to the StatChat blog, published by the Demographics Research Group at the University of Virginia, is that Asians are represented disproportionately in high-paying STEM-H occupations such as health care; architecture & engineering; life, physical and social science; and computer & mathematical.

Virginia’s Asians are a highly diverse group encompassing Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Indians and Pakistanis, so we have to be careful with generalization. One thing all of these groups share, however, is strong, intact families that uphold the institution of marriage and insulate children from the corrosive temptations of popular culture. Generally speaking, Asian kids work harder at school, they are more likely to succeed academically, they are more likely to attend and complete college, and they are more likely to choose academically challenging career paths that lead to higher-paying jobs. Oh, and when the IRS calculates income, Asians are more likely to belong to two-income households.

The emphasis on academic achievement can be seen in comparisons of Standards of Learning test scores.

Not only do Asian students out-perform all other ethnic groups, including whites, disadvantaged Asian students out-performed their disadvantaged peers in other ethnic groups. Remarkably, disadvantaged Asian students out-performed all blacks and Hispanics. Some of the disparity in academic achievement may be attributable to the fact that academic performance is correlated with income and that Asian students belong to higher-income households. But the achievements of disadvantaged Asian students demonstrates something else is going on.

That something, I would argue, is a familial culture that values intact family structures, academic achievement, self-discipline, and a propensity to defer gratification. Singapore Asians may be “crazy,” to riff off the title of the popular movie, “Crazy Rich Asians,” but American Asians are anything but. More than any other group, Asians embody the virtues that made this country great. That’s why they have engendered so little ethnic animosity in contemporary society, and almost all Americans are happy to see them succeed.