Why do students from some racial or ethnic groups outperform students from other racial or ethnic groups?
Don't bother raising that question at California's Alhambra High School, where Asians make up 54 percent of the population and Latinos 38 percent. On the school's 2004 STAR Test, which measures student proficiency, Asian students' scores in English Language Arts for the 11th grade are 44 percent, with Latinos scoring 26 percent. In Mathematics, Asians in Algebra I scored 49 percent, and Latinos 12 percent. In Algebra II, Asians scored 55 percent, with Latinos at 19 percent. For Geometry, Asians scored 51 percent, and Latinos 11 percent.
Robin Zhou, a senior, wrote a school newspaper column called "Latinos Lag Behind in Academics." Zhou asked, "So why are our Advanced Placement classes 90 percent Asian? Two factors contribute significantly that influence students' academic progress from the first year of school. The first is cultural: many Asian parents, especially recent immigrants, push their children to move toward academic success, while Hispanic parents are well-meaning but less active. Since kids are concerned mainly with the present, little parental involvement often means they fail to realize that school is not an end in itself but a bridge to better things.
"Given that Asian students are often pushed harder and more consistently by their parents, it's not surprising that a performance gap already exists by middle school. . . . The second factor maintaining the performance gap appears around then, the deliberate segregation of previously uniform student bodies into white- and blue-collar castes."
For respectfully pointing out the elephant in the room, Zhou received threats. Some students -- and at least one teacher -- called him racist! Never mind that Zhou carefully wrote the article to avoid offense. "Using past scores as a measure," he carefully wrote, "are Hispanic students not pulling their weight? The answer is clearly no. To deny that the Hispanic student population as a whole lags behind its Asian counterpart would be ignoring the cold statistical truth. Is this suggesting that brown people cannot think on the level of white and yellow people? Absolutely not. [Emphasis added.] But the difference is real, and it needs to be acknowledged and explained before it can be erased."