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?

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10 responses to “Why Aren’t Asian Kids the Benchmark for School Achievement?

  1. I don’t know, Jim, the last few days we’ve seen the end result of this deep fascination with race and ethnicity and identity politics in this country – all around the political spectrum. I’m pretty sick at heart about it all. Your timing could be better.

    • I get it.

      The obsession with race and ethnicity permeates state and local government, especially the educational system. The fixation on race/ethnicity dominates all thinking, and it continually surfaces in government reports and nonprofit studies. Racial disparities have become the all-purpose explanation for everything that ails our society. That mindset is constantly thrust upon us. There is no avoiding it.

      I didn’t invent that mindset. I just respond to it.

      • So VDOE and the government does not “benchmark” -they just report what the law requires them to in terms of races.

        Others outside of govt choose how they want to frame it – by the way – on all sides of the spectrum!

        I’m not sure what your complaint is really about.

        Are you advocating that reporting on a race basis is wrong and should be discontinued?

        The other thing is that the government mandates the reporting and it is the basis upon which criticisms are launch against public schools and other public institutions but are other non-public schools also required to provide that same level of transparency so we can also judge how they do – which I believe would actually hold public schools even more accountable if we see that non-public schools do “better” and actually had a lower achievement “gap”!

        However, what we do have because of the mandated reporting is a treasure or trash trove of data that can and is converted to “information” and “framed” by differing folks of differing views.

        Surely, as long as the govt/schools collect the data and report it unvarnished -you cannot be against that, right?

        Finally, the “benchmark” is not really “white” – it’s the majority – the biggest sample. Is that better? 😉

        Sometimes I think you’re projecting on race.. you know… we’re probably all guilty of it in some fashion but you publish yours! 😉

  2. I could be wrong and would admit so if shown but as far as I see – VDOE just reports performance results by race without really “benchmarking”. If not mistaken – it’s Federal law that mandates the racial reporting as well as other metrics like free & reduced, at-risk, etc.

    Do others take that data and interpret it as that company did. Yep. But what does that really mean?

    But also – would we advocate that we NOT report by race at all?

    re: ” That second conclusion is particularly notable. It suggests that the achievement problems for black and Hispanic students are not endemic across Virginia’s educational system. The problems are concentrated in lower end of the achievement spectrum — perhaps in particular under-performing school districts, or perhaps in particular under-performing schools. The phenomenon is worth exploring.”

    Particularly some schools in some districts where other schools in the very same district with the very same administrators –

    what does that mean when we see that – pretty much across the state?

    can it be that it’s just “bad” schools with “bad” teachers that randomly appear but each school district gets their share?

    more likely it has to do with other factors so yes… definitely worth exploring especially if we want to talk about how to try to remedy it.

  3. Yes, Larry, just stop tracking and reporting the data by race. Parental involvement and expectations, the level of educational preparation before the child ever enters a school room, the presence or absence of other factors that can damage the child’s ability to learn (abuse, poverty, violence or stress, bad nutrition) – all of those factors carry great weight. In the great genetics vs. environment debate I come down hard on the side of environment. And then at age 4 or 5 it starts to matter whether its a good school, a competent teacher. Even then, it must be reinforced at home. But by age 5 much damage can be done or a great foundation can be built.

    Jim: “I didn’t invent that mindset. I just respond to it.” Yes, yes you do. You rise to the bait like a trout. You and those you oppose are two sides of the same discouraging coin. Identity politics and identity violence (Pittsburgh) are two sides of the same evil coin. E Pluribus Unum may only be a dream, but I won’t abandon it. I know you think you are pushing back but you are doing it using their terms, their mindset, and the very premise has to be rejected out of hand. The very concept of “race” is a cultural and political construct that places false emphasis on superficial human variations.

    • Jim: “I didn’t invent that mindset. I just respond to it.” Yes, yes you do. You rise to the bait like a trout.

      I deplore identity politics, just as you do. But government policy is government policy, and that policy engages in racial bean counting, and statistics on race/ethnicity drive public policy — public policy that, I believe, has been profoundly destructive to the very people it is intended to help. The one good thing about racial bean counting is that it provides the ammunition needed to counter deleterious policies and priorities.

      How would you approach the issue? I would urge you to write a column arguing that we “stop tracking and reporting the data by race.” I agree with the sentiment behind the idea, that we should approach all students as individuals, not define them by their race. But I would like to see your idea exposed to discussion and commentary. Without racial/ethnic data, a vast piece of the educational bureaucratic apparatus would no longer be needed. Hundreds of SJWs would lose their jobs. Expect massive push-back.

  4. Dear Jim,

    The “bean” counting you describe is but a symptom of a larger problem, which you cite: A large network of radicals who control one political party and whose goal is the subversion of society and collect data as a tool to precisely describe their allegation of unfairness and injustice in society. But the data are neutral, but the radicals (mis)shape it for their revolutionary agenda by filtering them through their revolutionary premises.

    A still deeper problem is what Conservatives have long criticized Liberals: That arguing for a greater equality of opportunity soon veers into a demand for equality of outcome. Capturing data quantities in numeric detail what would still be observable by the eye. “Ridding” ourselves of the data would not disable the Left, which would respond that this would be an effort to “camouflage” “institutional racism.” The call for “color blindness” by Black activists in the 1950s and ’60s was but one phase in a revolutionary movement for Black empowerment; Jim Crow laws first had to be removed, and so, “color blindness” was useful to that purpose; the construction of laws and regulations favoring Blacks, after “Jim Crow’s” demise, however, required the rejection of said “color blindness.” As a strategy for political and economic empowerment of Blacks as a group, it has worked very well. What has not worked well for Blacks or other groups of Americans, has been Globalization and Welfare type programs; jobs that once provided well and for families and communities have been abolished and government incentives have encouraged the break-up of the family.

    The great question is: Are the inequalities the data describe due to hereditarian differences, differences in culture and attitudes, or some other environmental cause, or a combination of these? Only environmental questions are allowable by the Left, including many or most Republicans and Libetarians. But if they are wrong, then the search for the “true cause” of these differences will go on and on with no end. The history of this “great quest” is now lengthy already, and so, apparently, is its future.

    However, deciding to quantify or not will not end it, since the base for it is a chimerical sense of natural equality and that justice necessarily flows from it. But human pride feeds arguments for both equality and inequality. Envy and resentment feed arguments for equality. While we are well-versed in the lessons of allowing self-superior pride to take control of a polity and subsume all before it, we, Americans tend to be much less so as to its, as or more deadly rivals, envious pride that seeks to lay low all high places and a more broadly Socialistic wish for all valleys to be exalted. Such things cannot happen in this world. Their spiritual meanings have been torn from their spiritual contexts and brought into this world. For those who have lost faith in the spiritual, accepting unpleasant reality is a kind of “second death”: A loss of faith in the earthly paradise, is to tear from them their last and only remaining hope. It is their only stay from despair, without heaven.



  5. Jim’s analysis is accurate, useful and important because it topples a core belief of the left. That belief, which I’ll call “white privilege”, holds that non-whites have failed to succeed in America because whites have exerted their privilege in order to keep non-whites down. This intellectually bankrupt philosophy is taught on college campuses and used to excuse everything from racial quotas to disproportionate levels of violent crime from one race to another.

    Now comes Jim clouding the liberal theory with facts. The simple fact is that Asian Americans are economically and educationally more successful than white Americans. If white privilege holds down non-whites then what explains the success of Asian Americans?

    Yet another liberal ox has been gored by facts.

    • Don, Don, Don. Don’t you understand that, for purposes of white oppression theory, Asians are considered to be white. Obviously, my kids would strongly object to being considered white or Caucasian. So would I make the same objection.

  6. My main objection is choice of musical instruments: piano and violin, which is somewhat stereotypical now. Hey Tiger mom, how about trumpet, clarinet, and sax? Our community band needs future wind instrument players, and the demographic shift to piano and violin is a long term membership concern, I theorize.

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