Adam L. Beberg
Sun, 21 Apr 2002 19:47:16 -0700 (PDT)
Caring parents and studying increase test scores. Researchers briefly
remove heads from asses to look amazed. News at 11.
Who funds this stuff anyway? I want to study the effects of rolling around
in a pile of cash on human skin.
Special Report: Why Asian Children Do So Well in School
By PAUL H.B. SHIN
Why is it that so many Asian students, even those from relatively poor
families, are in the academic fast lane?
The state's first-ever racial breakdown of its test scores unveiled last
month confirmed a stark chasm in academic performance between white and
Asian students and their black or Latino classmates.
The report showed that 70% of white students and 65% of Asians passed the
state's fourth-grade English exam in 2001, compared with 37% of blacks and
35% of Latinos. The gulf was even wider in math.
But even before the recent test results, the lopsided nature of the problem
was apparent in city schools especially when considering Asian students and
Asians accounted for 13% of all city high school kids in 2001, but made up a
disproportionately large percentage of students at the city's elite science
high schools 48% at Stuyvesant, 46% at Bronx Science and 39% at Brooklyn
The connection between how affluent a student's family is and grades is
well-documented. Half of the students who enter Stuyvesant and Bronx Science
come from middle schools in two of the most affluent school districts in the
city Districts 2 and 26 and city parochial schools, according to a 1996
study by the community group ACORN.
But the new state results were all the more surprising because most Asian
kids tested were from families not much better off economically than black
and Latino families.
About 76% of Asian students come from poor families, compared with 82% for
blacks, 89% for Latinos and 44% for whites.
Attempts to explain the achievement gap have long been tangled in racial
politics including theories about differing IQ distribution among ethnic
and racial groups but recent studies by some of the nation's top education
researchers point to three major factors.
Asian-American parents have a zeal for education and see it as a means of
social and economic upward mobility.
"If you look at Asian families, there's an almost monolithic focus on the
child's achievement," said Joshua Aronson, a social psychologist at New York
University's School of Education.
There are real differences in how Asian students hit the books.
They tend to study in mutually supportive groups and are less likely to
ridicule peers who study hard or volunteer answers in class, said Ronald
Ferguson, a Harvard University economist who has studied the achievement gap
In a landmark study at the University of California at Berkeley, mathematics
Prof. Uri Treisman dramatically boosted the scores of his black freshmen
taking calculus when he had them duplicate the group-study habits of their
Scores also shot up in elementary grades when students worked in groups
helping one another, Aronson said.
Time and again, researchers have found a bias against black and Latino
students by teachers who tend to regard Asian kids more positively.
A study of a Southern California school district by The Education Trust, an
independent think tank, showed that teachers were twice as likely to steer
their Asian students into ninth-grade algebra, a pivotal requirement for
future math courses, compared with black or Latino students.
"Many times, [Asian] students are given the benefit of the doubt, where
other students may not be, because people expect Asian students to be doing
better," said Andrew Fuligni, a developmental psychologist at UCLA.
The new emphasis on tracking test scores is a delicate issue. "Nobody likes
to talk about problems like this. But getting it out on the table is the
first step toward addressing the problem," said Kati Haycock, director of
The Education Trust.
Struggling to Overcome Stereotypes
While Asian students score higher on average than their peers, putting them
on a pedestal can obscure the fact that many of them also need academic
"Lots of students getting lost in the shuffle who happen to be Asian deal
with very similar barriers as Hispanics and blacks," said Jamie Lew, a
Rutgers University sociologist who has studied education in the city's Asian
The model minority myth puts intense pressure on students to live up to
stereotypes. "I hate that people always think that Asians are good at math
because I hate math," said Sunae, 19, a Korean-American student in Queens
who did not want to give her last name.
Sunae dropped out of high school and is studying for her equivalency
Zubair Haque, a 17-year-old Pakistani-American, said he dropped out after he
felt constant pressure from his teachers at John Bowne High School in Queens
to measure up to his older sister, who attended the school and excelled in
"The teachers said, You should be more like your sister,'" Zubair said. "But
I'm my own person. I have my own character."
The stress of having to live up to racial stereotypes can be crippling for
some kids. Amiel, 18, a Chinese-American student dropped out of Bayside High
School last year.
"Basically you have to be perfect," said Amiel, who now attends a high
school equivalency program and did not want his last name to be used.
"Because of that, I stayed home and slept."
Sacrificing to Make the Grade
For many Asian-Americans, high academic achievement comes with large
sacrifices by students and their parents.
Sandra Jang, whose 13-year-old daughter, Janice, will enter Stuyvesant High
School this fall, quit her job as a bank clerk to devote more time to her
"My husband and I really agonized over the decision," said Jang, who
emigrated from Korea in 1983. "It wasn't easy to give up that second income.
But we felt it would be more worthwhile to invest my time this way."
Janice also pays her dues, putting in extra study time at one of the cram
schools that have sprouted up in the city's Asian enclaves.
In the citywide Korean-American business directory alone, there are 113
listings for after-school academic programs.
The one Janice attends is the Elite Academy in Flushing, Queens. Elite sends
more than 100 students each year to the city's three specialized high
schools and produces a handful of students scoring a perfect 1600 on their
SATs each year.
Though some educators have criticized these programs for creating a shadow
education system that relies on rote drilling, even non-Asians have begun to
embrace the concept.
"What surprised me was that this was the norm for the Asian-American
community," said Ted Cleary, a former Nassau County assistant district
attorney who teaches at Elite.
"Programs like this reflect a real commitment on the part of Asian parents
to make a sacrifice for their kids' education," he said.