The Asian Effect – Why Do Asian Americans Outperform All Other Minority Groups?

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The Asian Effect – Why Do Asian Americans Outperform All Other Minority Groups? (The Myth of the Model Minority: Asian Americans Students in the Classroom)

- Personal Narrative -

W. Daniel O’Brien

ELPS 417 Spring 2007 Dr. Pamela Porter

Word Count: 2,748

The Asian Effect

ABSTRACT: Many empirical studies have observed the existence of an "Asian effect" regarding students' math and science performance. Furthermore, various statistics are frequently cited in the academic field to show continuing success in college, postgraduate fields and finally business ownership and earnings by Asian Americans. As a result, Asian Americans are often called the “model-minority” group. Yet, few studies have developed a conceptual model that explains why AsianAmerican students outperform students from other race-ethnic backgrounds. Indeed, much of the “evidence” is a combination of statistics and anecdotal observations. As a result, some researchers have countered that this “model minority” description is a myth. They believe it is a distortion of the statistics and a misunderstanding of the diverse ethnic groups which are included under the umbrella term “Asian American.” This personal narrative will consider primary and secondary sources to examine this question. It will be both qualitative and quantitative using elements of statistical data, historical and social context, as well as direct observation. The purpose will be to evaluate issues of equity and diversity with the goal of suggesting some preliminary applications for the modern classroom teacher at the secondary level.


The Asian Effect

It was the first day of the second semester in a mixed grade high school concert music ensemble. The teacher was new, replacing an instructor that had left mid-term. This particular high school is in a small school district in the Conejo Valley of southern California. This district, although small, is in an affluent area located in a suburban area between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. The school population is: • • • • • Caucasian – 86% Hispanic – 3% African American – 1% Other – 1% Asian – 9%

In an effort to get to know the students, the instructor assessed the students’ abilities and knowledge. One of these assessments was to ask the students how many of them could play their major scales in all twelve keys. Of the entire class of 32 students, only five could. Every one of them was Asian. One student in particular stood out from the others, James H1. James is an eleventh grader and plays first clarinet in the school Wind Ensemble. In many ways, he exemplifies the high-achieving stereotypical Asian American. How do Asian students like James get to the top of the class? Why do many Asian students excel, particularly in contrast to other ethnic minorities? Unlike African Americans, Latinos/as, and Native Americans, Asian Americans have been economically and educationally successful, even in comparison to the White population. In 1998, the average median household income was $46,637 for Asians, compared to $42,439 for


- Names have been changed.


The Asian Effect

Whites and $25,531 for African Americans. Although they comprise on 13 percent of the non-White population, Asians own thirty percent of all minority businesses (Diller 2005). Similar statistical patterns abound in nearly every study, tending to confirm the model-minority conception of Asians. Asians and whites graduate from high school at about the same rate, approximately 90 percent. However, Asians are more likely than Whites to complete two or more years of college. In 1990, 13 percent of Asians earned graduate or professional degrees, compared to 9 percent for Whites; their rate was three to four times that of other minorities. Asian students consistently outperform others in the classroom, and the top ranked colleges are filled with Asians students. Additionally, a much higher percentage of Asian Americans go on to medical, law, or...
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