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December 22, 2012

The “Asian quota” and implicit cultural knowledge

Filed under: Education — Razib Khan @ 6:31 pm

The Myth of American Meritocracy, Ron Unz

A recent conversation I had with a friend whose parents are immigrants from Germany made me reconsider and reflect on the power of implicit information in shaping one’s life; that information being culturally mediated. Though my friend was raised in the United States, because of her parents’ immersion in the German expatriate community her upbringing was very bicultural. In fact, she is much more German than I am Bangladeshi. Despite the fact that to anyone who is a Baby Boomer or older she looks American, and I do not, there are many similarities in outlook due to our 1.5 generation background. Both of us are from families where graduate educations in the sciences are the norm. We succeeded in academics and pursued higher education without much effort or obstacles. This is not a story of overcoming the odds in a conventional  sense. In explicit terms we are entirely American, but there are nevertheless implicit aspects of being American of a particular social class which we had to experience after leaving home at 18.

This brings me back to the issues which were highlighted in Ron Unz’s recent piece in The American Conservative, The Myth of American Meritocracy (note: I was an Unz Foundation Junior Fellow between February 2007 and February 2012). You can see further discussion of the topic at The New York Times, as well as Unz’s weblog. Steve Hsu has also been discussing the results as well. My primary focus here is not going to be on the article itself. I broadly accept many of the empirical findings. The chart above shows to me that it is clear there has been implicit collusion between Ivy League universities in regards to the proportion of people of Asian ancestry who attend these institutions. In hindsight it should not be too surprising. I commend you to read Austin Bramwell’s perspective in the Top of the Class, where he outlines exactly how elite prep schools cooperate with the admissions offices of Ivy League universities to perpetuate the pipeline which maintains the generations of the customary American gentry (of which he is a member).

Institutions like Harvard exist to shape the nature of the American ruling class. It makes sense that they would be keen toward particular demographic considerations. I am personally not particularly pleased as the prospect of racial quotas, but then again my image of an “elite university” is that it should be elite in scholarly terms, rather than as a finishing school for the next generation of America’s rulers (and I have no interest in the types of demographic diversity which are of concern for most). But I am not the dictator of this world, and I am rather confident that no matter what the Supreme Court rules in the near future, a de facto quota system will continue, with some marginal modifications, at private universities for the indefinite future. The American ruling class, whether it be intellectuals, politicians, or corporate executives, favors some form of affirmative action and diversity, and I am convinced that they will get their way, no matter legal obstacles or populist sentiments.

Reality is what it is, and it is on the matter of transparency, and explicit comprehension, where I think we need to make our stand. There are many people who have long been aware of the “Asian quota,” or the fact that “holistic admissions” serve to allow particular universities to modulate their demographic outcomes appropriately. But not everyone is aware of this. I am thinking, for example, of a friend who was raised by a single mother. He happens to be 1/4 Asian in ancestry, and when applying to elite private universities he made sure to put “Asian” as his race, under the false assumption that being a minority would aid his chances of admission. Raised by a white single mother he was not in a milieu where the “real rules” on what counts, and doesn’t count, as a minority, were understood. We live in a system where the child of Korean shopkeepers is not an underrepresented minority, while the child of a Venezuelan doctor most certainly is. Similarly, when elites talk about “diversity,” it is implicitly clear that this alludes to very particular and specific demographic diversities. Race, sex, and the reality of some ancestry derived from Latin America most certainly. Our modern elites may give a rhetorical nod to socioeconomic diversity, but there will never be any substantive action in this direction which might jeopardize the chances of their own children ascending the ladders of power. The extant scholarship on elite university admissions suggests that non-Hispanic whites who are below the middle class are extremely underrepresented at elite private institutions, but there is no prospect to my knowledge that this deficit in the texture of the future ruling classes will be addressed. This is just understood by all who count, and requires no great public discussion.

Success in life in the United States today demands that you understand the implicit and subtextual filaments which thread their way through the American cultural landscape. My daughter is an Asian American because her father is an Asian American (thanks to the reclassification of South Asians as Asian Americans in 1980). But the reality is that her physical appearance strongly favors her Northern European heritage. With that in mind we quite consciously gave her a series of names which allowed her own ethnic identity to be optional and situational. As I have no great emotional interest or preoccupation with collective identities I feel no pang of guilt or regret about this. The world is a bureaucratic machine, and there are those born who understand that the machine must be manipulated, and those who allow themselves to be tossed about by its machinations. If you don’t have a cynicism and mercenary attitude toward the machine, you will be consumed by it. The children of the American elite take the machinery for granted by dint of the implicit cultural wisdom they receive with their mother’s milk. The machine will always load the die so as to favor then. Those who are outside can only even the odds through information, and being better than those who are to the American manor born.

Of course there are many serious issues to address in regards’ to Unz’s piece. Many point out that perhaps there are rational reasons to discount the academic successes of Asian Americans (i.e., are these tests truly representative of intellectual vigor and curiosity?). But these honest discussions can only be had once honesty and transparency is the foundation and starting point. Until then we will continue to muddle on, trying to make sense of a complex world.

October 6, 2012

The power of home environment

Filed under: Education — Razib Khan @ 10:01 pm

Before a Test, a Poverty of Words:

Things are very different elsewhere on the class spectrum. Earlier in the year when I met Steven F. Wilson, founder of a network of charter schools that serve poor and largely black communities in Brooklyn, I asked him what he considered the greatest challenge on the first day of kindergarten each year. He answered, without a second’s hesitation: “Word deficit.” As it happens, in the ’80s, the psychologists Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley spent years cataloging the number of words spoken to young children in dozens of families from different socioeconomic groups, and what they found was not only a disparity in the complexity of words used, but also astonishing differences in sheer number. Children of professionals were, on average, exposed to approximately 1,500 more words hourly than children growing up in poverty. This resulted in a gap of more than 32 million words by the time the children reached the age of 4.

This makes sense. It certainly explains the dearth of the children of working class Korean immigrants in higher education, seeing as their parents often have rudimentary English vocabularies. Oh wait…. These tales of the power of upper middle class ...

July 3, 2012

Why the kids don’t know no algebra

Filed under: Culture,Education,Evolution — Razib Khan @ 8:36 am

A few days ago I stumbled upon a really interesting post. And I’m wondering if my readers are at all familiar with the phenomenon outlined here (it was a total surprise to me), The myth of “they weren’t ever taught….”:

Stage One: I will describe this stage for algebra I teachers, but plug in reading, geometry, writing, science, any subject you choose, with the relevant details. This stage begins when teachers realize that easily half the class adds the numerators and denominators when adding fractions, doesn’t see the difference between 3-5 and 5-3, counts on fingers to add 8 and 6, and looks blank when asked what 7 times 3 is.

Ah, they think. The kids weren’t ever taught fractions and basic math facts! What the hell are these other teachers doing, then, taking a salary for showing the kids movies and playing Math Bingo? Insanity on the public penny. But hey, helping these kids, teaching them properly, is the reason they became teachers in the first place. So they push their schedule back, what, two weeks? Three? And go through fraction operations, reciprocals, negative numbers, the meaning of subtraction, a few properties of equality, and just wallow in the glories ...

July 1, 2012

The law school scam as a cognitive bias

Filed under: Education,Law school — Razib Khan @ 10:57 pm

I’ve been aware of the whole “law school scam” genre for years. The basic issue is pretty straightforward: all the problems of higher education with easy loans and inflated tuition for credentialing are manifest writ large in law schools. Here are some plausible numbers, Law Grads Face Brutal Job Market:

The numbers suggest the job market for law grads is worse than previously thought. Nationwide, only 55% of the class of 2011 had full-time, long-term jobs that required a law degree nine months after graduation. The ABA defines “long-term” jobs as those that don’t have a term of less than one year.

Read the whole article, and you see how law school deans try to present weasel explanations for the damning statistics. There’s also a nice interactive graphic. Whittier College of Law has a 40% unemployment rate for the class of 2011. The bar passage rate is 66%, and the tuition is $38,000. In contrast, Columbia 2011 grads have an unemployment rate of less than 1%, with a tuition of  $51,000. Obviously the inputs matter here. Columbia professors aren’t that much better than Whittier professors. Rather, Whittier is probably taking $38,000 a year from individuals who are ...

June 27, 2012

Do consumatory scholars need tenure?

Filed under: academia,Education — Razib Khan @ 11:27 pm

John Hawks pointed me to this really strange article, Just Because We’re Not Publishing Doesn’t Mean We’re Not Working:

We have no concise term to describe what we spend much of our time doing. Our colleges are focused on scholarly products that can be peer-reviewed and published, but the reality is that many of us spend much of our time on being scholarly, not on producing scholarship. We are, and should be, consuming the scholarship of others. Consuming scholarship includes preparatory time for teaching but is much broader. We need a name for this ubiquitous activity. I offer “consumatory scholarship.”

I suppose the arguments is that by consuming the production of others you become a better teacher and communicator. But is this good bang-for-the-buck? One could argue that argue that I’m a “consumatory scholar,” but at least I have 10 years of a huge amount of text production of commentary which is widely circulated (e.g., I’ve been cited in a few books, just query “Razib Khan”).

Obviously there is some truth to the charge that publish-or-perish leads to a surfeit of crap. Quantity over quality. But this seems to take it to the extreme level. Publications do end up being ...

June 22, 2012

One test to rule them all

Filed under: Culture,Education — Razib Khan @ 10:16 pm

Educational Realist elaborates on some of the concerns I have had with Chris Hayes’ ballyhooed piece on the failure of elites:

Hayes is correct about one thing, though: the elites are locking out the hoi polloi from highest-level institutions. But it takes a real ignorance to pretend that the rich are doing this because of over-reliance on test scores or test prep, as opposed to buying their way in, using their powerful networks to only hire from the “right” schools, and the fuzzy math of the “holistic” evaluation process. Give me test scores any day.

ER also observes that in fact minorities, and in particular Asians, make use of test prep:

Use of Test-Prep Courses and Gains, by Race and Ethnicity

Group % Taking Test-Prep Course Post-Course Gain in Points on SAT East Asian American 30% 68.8 Other Asian 15% 23.8 White 10% 12.3 Black 16% 14.9 Hispanic 11% 24.6

When I was in kindergarten I scored in the bottom 5 percent on an IQ test in the first week. At the end of the year I scored in the top 5 percent. I didn’t know English very well at the beginning of the year, and full immersion helped me catch up by year’s end (my English converged to nearly 100% fluency by 1st grade). Additionally, I might add that ...

June 18, 2012

The invisible academic Asian

Filed under: Education — Razib Khan @ 10:38 pm

In Chris Hayes’ piece in The Nation, Why Elites Fail, there is a particular lacunae which I noted: he does not make it clear to a non-New York audience which is well known to any New York based reader: elite public schools in the city are dominated by Asians. I pointed this out to both Hayes and Matt Yglesias on Twitter. Hayes makes much of the advantages accrued to the wealthy via test prep, but neglects to mention the racialized cast of this: test prep and competition for these public school slots is driven by the children of Asian immigrants. Consider, Test Fuels Anxiety—And An Industry:

The challenging test, known as the “Sci-Hi” exam for short, consists of a math and verbal sections. More than 27,000 kids took the test last fall. Only about one in five students wins admission to the specialized high schools. Asians and South Asians were 57 percent of the students who learned in February that they’ve been admitted to one of the eight competitive specialized high schools.

The city’s Department of Education offers free prep classes for economically disadvantaged students. But many immigrant families pay for private test prep classes despite having incomes that ...

January 20, 2012

Physical education teachers are not smart

Filed under: Education,Teachers — Razib Khan @ 1:51 am

So there is a website out there, Educational Realist (via Steve Sailer), which made me aware of some statistics from ETS on the intellectual aptitudes of those who passed a teaching certification. This is relevant because those who major in education at university are notoriously rather weak students. The implication here is that teachers are substandard as a whole, a narrative long favored on the American Right, but now spreading in some parts of the Left.

Below are the verbal and mathematical scores by licensing domain. The solid line represents the average SAT score of a college graduate.

First, as a whole it seems the teaching profession is a high verbal and low math area, with math & science teachers being exceptions. But it really looks to me like there’s a sharp discontinuity between two groups of teachers here. Physical and special education instructors, as well as elementary school teachers, are less intelligent than the average college graduate. The other fields far less so, and in their domain of specialization they seem to be superior to the average college graduate.

Another table also caught my eye. You see see in the table to the left that teachers are far whiter than their students. It is clear that the “Other” category is mostly Asian from later tables. Observe that both Asians and Hispanics are underrepresented in the teaching corps by a factor of 7 in relation to the number of Asian and Hispanic students. I suppose someone might start wondering as to whether this is a problem, but last I checked Asian students are not having difficulties despite not having Asian ethnicity teachers. And in any case, no offense to the teaching profession, but if there is outreach to Asian Americans to encourage their children to become teachers there may be violent repercussions. There’s enough ostracism already when children decide to go graduate school, instead of medical or law school. Trying to change the professional priorities of the community is going to be viewed as insensitive.

To be more explicit at what I’m getting at, below are mean SAT test scores comparing individuals of various races between those who are college bound (not necessarily graduates!) and those who pass teaching certification.

College bound seniors, 2010 Passed teacher certification, 2002-2005
Asian White Black
Asian White Black
SAT Math 591 536 429 521 524 459
SAT Verbal 519 528 428 510 534 482

As you can see, Asian teachers, who presumably have a college degree, actually score lower than college bound Asians! This means they’re almost certainly drawn from a below average set of college graduates. For whites there is not so much discrepancy. And interestingly for blacks teachers seem to be drawn from the higher end of the distribution.

June 16, 2011

Parents don’t matter that much

Update: Stephen Dubner emailed me, and pointed me to this much longer segment which has a lot of Bryan Caplan. So it seems like the omission that I perceived was more of an issue with the production and editing process and constraints of the Marketplace segment than anything else.

End Update

I play a lot of podcasts during the day as I go about my business on my iPod shuffle. One of them is Marketplace, which has a regular Freakonomics Radio segment, where Stephen Dubner “freaks” you out with incredible facts and analysis, often with a helping hand from Steven Levitt. With all due respect to Dubner and Levitt, this still has very pre-Lehman feel. Economics has “solved” the workings of the explicit market, so why not move on to other areas which are ripe for conquest by the “logic of life?”

In any case this week’s episode kind of ticked me off just a little. It started off with the observation that college educated women apparently put 22 hours weekly into childcare today, vs. 13 hours in the 1980s. I guess fewer latchkey kids and more “helicopter parents?” Dubner basically indicates that the reasoning ...

June 13, 2011

Which state has the most PhDs in the legislature?

Filed under: Data Analysis,Education — Razib Khan @ 3:08 am

Josh Rosenau points me to a new infographic from The Chronicle of Higher Education. A lot of the stuff isn’t too interesting or surprising. Are you surprised that 25% of the state legislators in Arkansas don’t have a college degree, the highest in the nation? The lack of public investment in education Arkansas has deep historical and cultural roots, back to its founding in the 19th century. On the other hand there are a few surprising nuggets. You are surely aware of the preponderance of Esquires in the profession of lawmakers in these United States. But can you guess which state has the highest proportion of lawyers in their legislature?

Don’t mess with Texas! They’ll sue you!

How about doctorates? This one might surprise you too:

I suspect the dominance of Nebraska here is because of the prominence of agriculture in the state economy. “Cow colleges” are often factories for the production of local leaders who become the captains of agriculture with education and scientific knowledge in hand. They have interests to be defended! Farm subsidies to ...

April 30, 2011

The “law school scam” media bubble

Filed under: Culture,Education,Law school scam — Razib Khan @ 1:58 pm

If you’re like me you have friends and acquaintances who want to go to law school. I often respond sarcastically that “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.” There have long been “law school scam” blogs, but it seems that right now there’s a veritable bubble in media reports on exactly how law schools are screwing their students. Remember, law school debt is not dischargeable in bankruptcy.

First, an article in The New Republic, Served: How law schools completely misrepresent their job numbers:

When we take temporary employment into account, it appears that approximately 45 percent of 2010 graduates of this particular top-50 law school had real legal jobs nine months after graduation. And the overall number is likely lower, since it seems probable that the temporary employment figures for the graduates of almost any top 50 school would be better than the average outcome for the graduates of the 198 ABA-accredited law schools as a whole.

Even this grim figure, however, may be unduly optimistic. All these statistics are based on self-reporting, and neither law schools nor NALP audit the data they publish. In the course of my research, I audited a representative sample of individual graduate responses and ...

June 27, 2010

Why educated women are having children

Filed under: Culture,Data Analysis,Education,natalism,Women — Razib Khan @ 9:22 am

Matt Yglesias has posted some charts showing that

1) Childlessness among women is becoming more common

2) The variation of this state by education is disappearing

Here’s the chart which illustrates the second phenomenon:


I think the reason this may be occurring is a dilution of the sample bias of women who have higher education in relation to the general ppoulation. In other words, as more women attain advanced degrees the pool of those women become less atypical vis-a-vis the general population

To gauge the shift in education and peculiarity I only needed a few variables in the General Social Survey. I limited SEX to women, YEAR to 1992-1994 and 2006-2008, DEGREE allowed me to break down educational attainment, and finally GOD was a variable which probed them on a culturally indicative variable.

First you can see women as a whole have become more well educated. This is a well known dynamic. The absolute change in the proportion of women who have advanced degrees is small, only a few percent, but in the GSS the proportion increase is around 50%. This includes masters and doctorates into one category.


The sample sizes for GOD across the periods of interest are small, but look at the enormous increase in the proportion who have no doubts in the existence of God. There was no change in this result in the general population across this time period.


UPDATE: For the second chart I forgot to note that that’s only women with advanced degrees.

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