Tag Archives: academic standards

Asian Immigrants and What No One Mentions Aloud

To continue my thoughts on college admissions and Asians:

Many people, reading of the clear discrimination against Asians, become all righteous, thinking of those poor, hardworking Asians. Come to America, work hard, and look how the system screws them.

But that reaction ignores the stereotype.

The stereotype, delicately put: first and second generation Chinese, Korean, and Indian Americans, as well as nationals from these countries, often fail to embody the sterling academic credentials they include with their applications, and do not live up to the expectations these universities have for top tier students.

Less delicately put: They cheat. And when they don’t cheat, they game tests in a way utterly incomprehensible to the Western mind, leading to test scores with absolutely zero link to underlying ability. Or both. Or maybe it’s all cheating, and we just don’t know it. Either way, the resumes are functional fraud.

Is it true for every single recent Chinese, Korean, or Indian immigrant? Of course not. I know far more recent Asian immigrants than most people, a fair number of whom effortlessly exceed their academic records, with style points to boot. That doesn’t make the stereotype any less relevant. Or less accurate, as stereotypes go.

There are two aspects to this story. First is the behavior of recent Asian immigrants who live in America. That part is largely anecdotal, because reporters are, as always, reluctant to be specific about race. Second, the behavior of Asians back in their native countries. Here, reporters are happy to describe behavior in great detail, because hey, it’s not race, it’s culture. Moreover, colleges have done a reasonable amount of research documenting the prevalence of cheating and “cultural differences” in Asian immigrant college students.

This piece will focus on recent Asian immigrants and cheating. I have been working on various aspects of Asians and college admissions for over six weeks now, and tried to figure out the best way to organize the chunks. Nothing ever seemed completely right, and I’ve got some several thousand words in addition to this one that may take me months to organize. I hope at some point to put together a piece on Asian nationals and cheating, but the one that’s hardest of all is the second part of the stereotype, the one that says okay, so they don’t always cheat—maybe—but even if they don’t, their test scores don’t match what we consider reality.

I will include a number of reported stories that back up my own experiences, as well as excerpt from School of Dreams, by Edward Humes, the story of a few years at Whitney High, a selective California public high school that is almost entirely Asian (as early as 1987, it was 45% Asian). Note again that this behavior is of recent Asian immigrants, kids who either came here very young or were born to recent immigrants. Humes’ book specifices this, and the aforementioned Wall Street Journal article also specifies that the troubles are with recent immigrants.

And so, cheating.

Cheating is a big problem in American high schools, and doom and gloom stories like this emphasize that high-achiever cheating is on the rise. Well, Asian immigration is on the rise, too, and Asian schoolkids are a huge percentage of high achieving kids. Is there any correlation, or is it rude to ask?

Teachers will tell you that high achiever cheating has a distinctly demographic tilt, which you can find in the stories if you look for it. Scratch the surface of any cheating story and odds are well above average the school or the class in question is disproportionately Asian. Journalists carefully scrub cheating stories of any racial references—unless it’s rich whites. In fact, it’s obvious that the SAT scandal was first thought to be “white” kids, which is why the reports contained names. Then it turned out they are mostly Iranian Jews, first or second generation immigrant. Oops. Which is not to say that impersonation is the typical cheating profile for Eastern and Southern Asians. (Cheating by high ability black and Hispanic students is virtually unknown, both in my own experience and a complete dearth of reported stories. The major cheating scandals involving black and Hispanic students is done on behalf of the lowest performers, usually by teachers, usually being ordered to do so by administrators.)

Researchers categorize cheating in three ways: impersonation, collaboration, and prior knowledge.

First, and least likely for Asians in this country, is impersonation, the method used by the Great Neck SAT scandal and the Clarence Mumford case. Cheaters need lots of money, an imposter who can guarantee results, and an anonymous setting. The Mumford case was so extensive, I think, because teacher testing is anonymous and a passing score, as opposed to a high score, was the only thing needed. That, coupled with a whole bunch of existing teachers who couldn’t pass the test. While impersonation is common in China and India, the ETS/College Board spot maybe 200 cases of impersonation a year in the US—at least, they only admit to that many. According to this story, impersonation used to be an issue among college athletes, which makes sense (and would therefore involve low-ability blacks more than Asians).

Next formal cheating category is “collaboration”, which means that students engaged in the work—test usually, homework almost always—are getting answers from other students also doing the work at that time. We don’t call this “copying” anymore, because getting answers almost always involves the consent and, well, collaboration of the person who has the answers.

Collaboration stories that hit the news usually involve Advanced Placement tests. “Chaos cheating”, as I call it, is nicely illustrated by the Mills High School story, in which the entire school’s AP scores were invalidated. While the first article only mentions one student with an Asian name, the student site protesting the decision has each student signing in by name, and the names are so Asian it’s funny, making it almost unnecessary to confirm that Mills is 60% Asian. The followup story has a revealing picture , and try playing “spot the white kid” with this video on the story.

Chaos cheating starts with a school screwup. The school doesn’t enforce security, sits the kids too close together, in circles or facing each other, directly against the rules. I know: what the hell does that have to do with the kids? They aren’t arranging this. At best, some kids are taking advantage of something that they had no control over.


From 2008 to 2013, I taught an AP US History survey course at two different SAT academies, for kids from around 20 schools, most of them 50% or higher Asian. I’ve been hearing from my APUSH students about exactly this scenario. I dismissed the first tale, thinking it absurd—any teacher knows how to proctor, particularly at the school in question, which had a long history of AP testing. Then I heard the story several more times from different kids, different schools, different review classes, always involving “Asian” schools or a heavily Asian testing population. I checked it against my white tutoring students, from a wide range of high schools, and the only ones who know of it also went to “Asian” schools. My Asian middle school students don’t know of it. The few Asian students I found who’d never seen it attended majority white or majority Hispanic schools—and they knew exactly what I was talking about, but told me that “wouldn’t fly” at their school.

The kids who know of it tell me some variation of this: the testers rush into the room as chaotically as possible, pull chairs close together, sit next to a buddy, whine like crazy when the proctor tries to impose seating order. The proctor sighs, exhorts them not to cheat, and pretty much turns over control of the class to the students. At that point, the kids can quietly discuss answers, text a buddy for help, and basically “collaborate” in any way needed.

Now, any decent, experienced proctor would never allow this. And yet, the “chaos cheating” stories that make the news all involve schools with a long history of high-achieving students taking all sorts of AP tests. The lax administration simply doesn’t make sense. But several major cheating stories of this nature on the AP have made the news in the past five or six years, in addition to the recent Mills High School story above. Here it is occurring at Skyline High School in Oakland, a majority minority school whose 22% Asian population likely comprises the bulk of the AP testers. Skyline’s cheating was limited to specific students, although it’s clear that the cheating couldn’t have occurred without incompetent or compliant proctors.

Another cheating scandal that involved both chaos cheating and texting occurred in Orange County, in which students were “allowed to talk, consult study aids, send text messages to friends and leave the room in groups during the exam” and we are supposed to believe that this was due to inexperienced proctoring in a high-achieving school in a wealthy district. I originally thought it was a primarily white student body. But back in 2008, Trebuco High freshmen through juniors were about 9% Asian, and CST scores reveal them to be a high achieving bunch. So about 150 Asians were juniors and seniors, figure perhaps a third of the AP testers were Asian. That’s plenty to create a chaos cheating situation. Ten students acknowledged cheating by texting, race omitted.

(AP Stats is a common cheating test. I mentioned this to a colleague, a third generation Japanese American, and he snorted, “Of course. That’s the math test for Asians who aren’t good at math.” and I suspect that this is, in fact, a good bit of the reason.)

The Mills students tried to sue. While the effort failed, the decision includes detailed descriptions of Mills, Skyline, and Trebuco testing procedures. It’s very hard to believe that Mills and Trebuco, in particular, were so blatantly incompetent.

I found one example involving the SAT, with the same seating violations and inattentive proctoring at a private school in Brooklyn, which surely should know better. When I first found Packer Collegiate Institute, I also intended to use it as a counterexample, of a case when chaos cheating involved a primarily white population, since the school is only 7% Asian. And it may–except the population is for K-12, and there’s no way to determine what age the Asians are. Are they all kindergartners? All high schoolers? Please note this article on Packer’s growing profile and resulting identity changes, paying particular attention to the increased competition, increased emphasis on college admissions, and changed atmosphere. The article doesn’t say “Asian student population has increased”, but given the school is in Brooklyn, which has seen a tremendous increase in Asian population, I do wonder what percentage of the testers are Asian.

We move from AP tests to every day classes and those ruthlessly consistent straight As that comprise a good bit of the Asian academic dominance, and there, teachers and students both can tell you all about the cheating. Collaborative cheating also includes splitting up homework assignments and texting answers on in-school tests and quizzes. All but one of the schools mentioned in that story are heavily Asian (Piedmont is not). I wrote part of this article at a pizza parlor in the late afternoon, packed full of students from one of the local high schools (80% Asian), openly “collaborating” on homework in late August. And I don’t mean “what’s the answer to question 9” but “we’re doing the front page, can you guys take the back side?” and then everyone switches answers. When you hear of Asian kids talking about all the hours they spend on homework, take it with a lot of salt. School of Dreams backs up the collaborative cheating on tests and the wasted time on homework.

The third category of cheating is “prior knowledge”—students are aware of the specific content of the test before taking it. Again, prior knowledge cheating occurs in every day classes as a way to get As on tests, as well as national tests. Students take advantage of prior knowledge in school by breaking in or in some other way obtaining the tests ahead of time. Students caught in the widespread cheating scandal at Stuyvesant High had both provided answers for their strong tests and received them for their weak tests—and this NY Magazine article makes it clear that cheating at New York City’s top high school is endemic and common. Notice that none of the schools mention the dominant race of the students involved, but the hints are there and all but one of the example schools are over 40% Asian. The North Carolina school, Panther Creek High School, is only 16% Asian, but it’s in a highly educated area, the students involved were all top-tier, and did you notice the mention of parental pressure? Dead giveaway. Some kids use the TA gig—TA for a teacher, get copies of the tests ahead of time (or in some cases change the grades) and either trade or sell.

Then there’s the national high stakes prior knowledge cheating scandals, in which the parties get the actual test information, sometimes from the Korean hagwons who pay testers to take pictures of the test, sometimes from principal whose brother works at a SAT academy that clearly has a large Asian clientele. (Wait–Asian schools in Plano, Texas? No way. Way: 32% Asian. Yeah, surprised me, too.)

(I’ve been talking about my work for a few months, and a friend just came back from taking her acupuncture board tests, shocked. She noticed all the “Asian testers” (no idea what countries) were disappearing into a large conference room, so she meandered down that way and discovered that they were all in a room with rows of laptops, typing ferociously. They weren’t studying. They were entering the questions for later testers.)

Whitney High School’s admission test was, and probably is, highly vulnerable to prior knowledge cheating. Back in the 90s, a test prep company bought a copy of the custom test from McGraw Hill, who created the test. Then later problems occurred with the essay portion. Cheating was so rampant that Whitney now uses CST scores and an essay—and of course, a private tutoring company, one started by an Asian (Brian Tom), and been around for 30 years (you gotta wonder, at least I do, if it was involved in the earlier shenanigans) is happy to tutor kids on the essay and the CST—that is, the California state tests.

In writing this piece, I have steeped myself in cheating articles, and this discovery of CST tutoring still caught me by surprise. White kids also don’t really care about their low-stakes state test scores, whereas Asian kids can tell me exactly what their last state test results were, because their parents get quite annoyed if they aren’t Advanced in every subject. And for that reason, I can’t dismiss the possibility that Asian kids are cheating on their state tests, too. Given that many state tests are given over a six or eight week period, I very much wonder if the tutoring companies aren’t buying copies or pictures of tests off of willing administrators.

Two actual data points to consider: in my first article, I mentioned the increased number of Asians getting high verbal scores on the SAT, during a period when far more recent Asian immigrants and nationals are taking the test. I find this….unlikely, and the fact that it hasn’t been investigated is pretty stunning. I also find it odd that far fewer Asians take the ACT (69,000 in 2012) than take the SAT (192,500 in the same year), when the ACT is taken by more students. Both are suggestive of cheating patterns—although they may also simply reflect the fact that SAT “academies” are better versed in gaming the SAT.

Go to any Asian school and ask the teachers. Ask the kids. And when the kids complain that gosh, everyone thinks we all cheat, ask them why. I do, and the kids always look shamefaced.

As if this whole story weren’t troubling enough, it seems a great deal of the cheating is facilitated by the schools, which are run primarily by white people. It’s not the kids who are arranging the weak proctors, who fold when the kids protest at changing seats. It’s not the kids who are refusing to expel students who’ve cheated on tests. So why is that happening? (Interestingly, the white male Stuyvesant principal was replaced, as a result of the cheating scandal, by an Asian female principal.)

I wonder about payoffs. Given its prevalence in China, Korea, and India and given the cheating history I’ve just outlined, it’s hard not to wonder if the practice isn’t continuing. The parents certainly aren’t in any hurry to assimilate; they view American kids as negative influences. (and when the Asians in question say “American”, they mean “whites”, as in this pretty horrifying tale of the fraud in Chinese English teaching industry.)

However, there’s also something that I don’t see reported much, but is common knowledge among teachers in Asian schools: many of the parents, who are recent immigrants, are ruthlessly and endlessly demanding. (This story focuses on Japanese parents in their native country, but remember, I’m talking about recent immigrants.) I know teachers who have quit Asian schools because of the 100 or more emails they get daily, demanding that grades be changed reconsidered. I can easily envision a proctor fearing the mountain of crap poured on his head if he held the line and forced kids to change seats, so instead just shrugs and hopes for the best. I’m not excusing it. But I can see it.

So is the cheating enabled by payoffs or fear? Beats me. Is this cheating just as prevalent among high-achieving whites and long-established Asian Americans? Not in my experience, which is not to say that these kids don’t cheat at all. But really rich kids usually have parents who buy their way in, and upper income “American” (and here, I mean all races) kids do not, as a rule, feel the same type of pressure that the recent Asian immigrant kids feel from their parents. Wouldn’t it be cool if reporters actually investigated, though?

As the universities know, these same kids go off to college and cheat some more.

I am not excusing their discrimination. I am attempting to explain it. Some version of this next occurs:

The universities look at the resumes of all Asian kids—recent immigrants, long-established natives, nationals—and know that many of them are fraudulent. They know that many of the kids they accept will not be able to function on their campus, whereas others will be able to get great grades so long as they cheat. They know that many of the students don’t have the inquisitive mind, genuine interest in intellectual pursuits that universities like to see in students (or pretend they do). But the universities want the great, if often fraudulent, stats to puff up their numbers for the rankings systems, to offset the athlete, the legacies (for privates), and the Kashawn Campbells (for publics). And so they try to minimize it, while still getting what they want—an improved profile, out of state fees for four years, instead of just one, while not overloading the campus with too many Asians.

That’s disgusting. But if that’s not bad enough—and it is—here’s the thing: the cheating I describe perpetuates two frauds. The first, of course, benefits the cheaters and their schools at both high school and university level. But the second perpetuates a much larger misconception: People really believe that our top high school students are taking ten-twelve AP courses during their high school year, maintaining 4.5 GPAs, and have the underlying knowledge one would expect from such study. But this almost certainly isn’t true. And once you understand the reality, it’s hard not to wonder about all the “weeding out courses” in organic chemistry and other brutal STEM college courses, the ones that Americans are abandoning in large numbers. The willingness to accept the cheating, to slap it on the wrist if that, is leading to lies that convince a lot of American kids that they aren’t smart enough for tough courses because they don’t cheat and aren’t aware that others are.

No one is going to pay any attention to this problem. Usually, Republicans/conservatives are willing to point out that supposedly racist beliefs are founded in valid stereotypes, and I find it pretty fascinating that they are practically gleeful about the discrimination against Asians, not because they approve, but because of what they see it revealing about Asian superiority, chortling at the need for “affirmative action for whites”, practically spiking the ball in their declarations that whites just aren’t up for the task of competing in a global market. I was originally confused, but have concluded that any reason to razz white liberals for racism is too good to be missed. Plus, reformers jump on the bandwagon because they think the news will help them convince whites that American schools suck. Others, like Charles Murray, are simply bothered by the lack of consistent standards. Liberals just ignore the news.

But at base, the Asian discrimination and the Kashawn Campbell story both reveal that our college admissions system is corrupt, that they are using students to build the metrics they want, rather than finding the students they want. I don’t know what to do about it. Fortunately, though, I just set out to explain why the discrimination happens, not offer any answers.

[Note: Given the comments of pseudoerasmus below, I want to be really clear: I am asserting that the stereotype of recent Asian immigrants exists, and I am reasonably sure the stereotype is why universities are discriminating against Asians. I also think the stereotype is accurate but not absolute. People who want me to prove the stereotype are out of luck. I’m just the messenger with an opinion. I’ve said the discrimination is wrong, regardless of the stereotype. That’s not just a bunch of words.]

On Graduation Rates and “Standards”

Stephanie Simon has a piece out on the increasing graduation rate (while I’m at it, mad props to Simon for the charter school piece, which probably did a lot to alert the general audience to charter selections), and various tweets are hailing the good news but—and this is the funny part—expressing concern that this increase rate might be due to schools lowering standards. Checker Finn has also written disapprovingly of credit recovery.

hahahahahaha. This is me, laughing.

Imagine you have forty 18 year olds, who all read and calculate at the 6th grade level, and another group of forty who all read and calculate at the 10th grade level. They are all high school seniors in a state that requires graduation competency tests. Of this overall collection of eighty, the following distribution is entirely unexceptional (and of course, not the only one possible):

  1. Fifteen screwed around from the moment they entered high school, have a GPA in the tenths, and are currently in alternative high school filling out worksheets. No reason to worry about high school graduation tests, though, because they passed them first time out.
  2. Fifteen are, on paper, identical to the previous group, except they haven’t passed any of their graduation tests and so some of their high school time is spent in test prep instead of worksheet completion.
  3. Fifteen are far behind because they went to a charter school that prided itself on making kids repeat grades, and after two years of failure they went back to public school. They’ve passed the high school graduation tests, and have been doing well since they left the charter, GPAs of 2.0 or so. But they’re far behind, so are taking two hours every day to do online credit recovery.
  4. Fifteen are at a charter school, where they have a 4.0 GPA with a bunch of AP courses on their transcripts, (thanks, Jay Mathews and your horrorshow of a Challenge Index) but haven’t passed the high school graduation tests.
  5. Ten recovered from an early bad start, have a solid 2.5 GPA, but haven’t passed their state graduation tests. Half of them have IEPs and official learning disabilities (which means, of course, they aren’t in charters), and so they’ll just waive the requirement. The others will keep plugging away.
  6. Ten have a solid 2.5 GPA after an early bad start and have passed their state graduation tests.

(Note: In case it’s not clear, the kids who can pass the state grad tests are the ones with tenth grade abilities, the ones who can’t are the ones with sixth grade abilities).

Any diverse high school district in the country, surveying its population in comprehensive, alternatives, online campuses, and charters, could assemble those eighty kids without breaking a sweat.

On the lower half of the ability spectrum, grades and credits are utterly pointless differentiators. Once you accept that we graduate thousands of kids who can’t read, write, or add, there’s no reason to cavil at the method we use to boot them out of the schoolhouse.

No, don’t yammer at me about persistence or compliance or god spare me “grit” of illiterates plugging away at school and therefore being more deserving of the diploma than the lazy but somewhat smarter kid. The concern about the increase was not about persistence or compliance or grit, but academic ability.

And so, rest easy, people. We are already graduating illiterates. The increased graduation rate is not achieved by teaching more kids more effectively, nor is it achieved by shovelling through the bottom feeders and thus devaluing high school diplomas. We are simply taking kids, whether near-illiterate or low but functional ability, who fell off the path that our other near-illiterate or low but functional ability kids stayed on, and putting them on a different conveyor belt.

How? As Simon’s article makes clear, by spending lots and lots of money:

* Launching new schools designed to train kids for booming career fields, so they can see a direct connection between math class and future earnings

* Offering flexible academic schedules and well-supervised online courses so students with jobs or babies can earn credits as their time permits

* Hiring counselors to review every student’s transcript, identify missing credits and get as many as possible back on track

* Improving reading instruction and requiring kids who struggle with comprehension to give up some electives for intensive tutoring

* Sending emissaries door-to-door to hound chronic truants into returning to class

Notice that only one of the techniques used actually involved teaching the kids more—not that I’m in favor of forcing kids to give up electives for intensive tutoring (I still have nightmares). But most of the money spent involved forcing or coaxing the kids back to school—and while the kids are mostly low ability, they are no less and often considerably more intellectually able than kids who just happened to jump through the right hoops.

How does this happen, you ask? As I’ve said many times: grades are a fraud.

Or you could put it another way: the increased graduation rate is a triumph of administrators over teachers. Teachers, except those in majority minority urban schools, are flunking kids with little regard to ability and a whole bunch of regard to compliance, with no regard to administrative or societal cost. Administrators are spending money to work around teacher grades.

In this context, bleats about academic standards do seem a bit….well, silly, don’t they?

And now someone is going to say, “You’re absolutely right. We should be failing kids who don’t or can’t do the work, put teeth into the Fs. That’s the only way to raise academic standards.”

Sorry, that fool’s wrong, too. Higher standards are impossible. No, really. Common Core advocates, much like Mark Wahlberg at the end of Boogie Nights, are parading their favorite toy in front of a mirror in the desperate hope they’ll convince themselves, if no one else. (What, too much? Yeah, it’s late. I’m feeling bleak.) I very much doubt Common Core will ever be implemented (no test, no curriculum, baby), but if it is, nothing will change.

People assume that kids in the bottom half of the ability barrel are there because they suffered a deficit in environment, in parental attention and expectations, in teacher quality. Would that this were so.

Given all the money we’re spending on truancy officers, online credit recovery, counsellors to spot missing transcripts just to push kids through to a diploma, we might just want to consider teaching low ability kids less at a slower pace and stop pretending that they have a “deficit” that can be addressed by college level work and high expectations. We could create a hell of a curriculum for high school kids using nothing more than 8th grade math and vocabulary.

But we won’t do that for the same reason we won’t track, and for the same reason that adminstrators are spending a fortune coaxing kids back to school: namely, the racial distribution would make everyone wince.