We are not models…here is data

A report issued yesterday by NYU and the College Board attempts to lay out a case for why we should remove “model” from in front of “minority” with respect to AAPI students. The New York Times covers the report:

The report, by New York University, the College Board and a commission of mostly Asian-American educators and community leaders, largely avoids the debates over both affirmative action and the heavy representation of Asian-Americans at the most selective colleges.

But it pokes holes in stereotypes about Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, including the perception that they cluster in science, technology, engineering and math. And it points out that the term “Asian-American” is extraordinarily broad, embracing members of many ethnic groups. [Link]

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p>I’m a census data geek so I had already flipped through a Powerpoint presentation of some of the study results before the Times write-up. I should admit that even before looking at the data I was slightly biased in that I thought it would be skewed in favor of the results that the “mostly Asian-American educators and community leaders” wanted to see. These types of studies usually seem to be. I agree that it is demeaning and not nuanced enough to label Asian Americans as model minorities, but I am also against making weak arguments to prove the contrary. Besides, if we weren’t “model minorities,” then why would Hollywood always portray us so? Here is Robert Teraishi’s presentation.

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Figure by Robert T. Teranishi, N.Y.U.

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p>Something about the above graph surprised me. It makes sense that Asian American groups (AAs only, not the PIs) with the shortest orange bars would be relatively better-off economically than those with longer orange bars. However, Chinese Americans seem to break that pattern. As a group they have a pretty long orange bar, indicating a substantial subset with poor English skills, and yet as a group they seem to have been pretty successful. I’m guessing the reason my perception is a bit skewed is that the absolute number of Chinese Americans is far greater than Indian or Filipino Americans. Maybe percentage-wise they haven’t been as successful as I assumed.

The report also said that more Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders were enrolled in community colleges than in either public or private four-year colleges. But the idea that Asian-American “model minority” students are edging out all others is so ubiquitous that quips like “U.C.L.A. really stands for United Caucasians Lost Among Asians” or “M.I.T. means Made in Taiwan” have become common, the report said. [Link]

Ok, I got to say though, having been both a student and a T.A. at UCLA, it is kinda of true (Abhi ducks for cover). At least most students seemed to have black hair.

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p>The next interesting plot was the one showing the double peaked Asian American students’ scores vs. the Gaussian distribution of all students. The point that the statistician is trying to make? There are both really smart and really poorly performing Asian Americans so we should assume they are all smart. My problem with this plot, and much of the other presentation, is that it conflates Asian American data with Pacific Islander data. There are many historical reasons why the two groups would perform differently. When most Americans stereotype Asians as a model minority (and poke fun at them as Hollywood characters) I’d argue that they usually have the AAs in mind and not the PIs. I mean, there aren’t many nerdy Samoan characters on TV.

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Figure by Robert T. Teranishi, N.Y.U.

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“Certainly there’s a lot of Asians doing well, at the top of the curve, and that’s a point of pride, but there are just as many struggling at the bottom of the curve, and we wanted to draw attention to that,” said Robert T. Teranishi, the N.Y.U. education professor who wrote the report, “Facts, Not Fiction: Setting the Record Straight.”

“Our goal,” Professor Teranishi added, “is to have people understand that the population is very diverse…” [Link]

Explaining to people the reasons for that diversity and how specifically it affects the presented data would have been useful. What would the above plot have looked like with just the AAs ploted vs. All? To be fair though, I think the author “gets it,” although I wish he sated this up front. His first conclusion is: “We need to collect and report data in a way that allows for further deconstruction of the variation within the AAPI racial category (by ethnicity, nationality, immigration history, and language background).”

There are a few other related presentations of interest that can be found on the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus website here.

41 thoughts on “We are not models…here is data

  1. Good point! I love how his “Asian-American-PI” category of study somehow magically excludes people from Afghanistan and Mongolia, but by adding in the “PI” he brings in Tahitians! So, let’s just modify the concept of Asian so it excludes people from Central Asia and includes the Solomon Islanders! Yay!

  2. I think the appropriate question to Teraishi is, “what exactly is the subject-matter of your inquiry?” It seems impossible to me that he’ll have a plausible answer that would justify including Melanesians, like the Solomon Islanders, but excluding the Mongolians.

  3. The point that the statistician is trying to make? There are both really smart and really poorly performing Asian Americans so we should not assume they are all smart.

    The bimodality in the distribution of scores is symmetric about the mean. While the distribution is probably smoothed, if this (or any) aspect of the combined graph is to be mostly explained by PI underachievement (which may in itself be significant) there would have to be a comparable number of both AAs and PIs. But there are only about a twentieth as many PIs as AAs in all (0.7 million vs 15 million). I suspect the numbers of SAT takers among the PIs is even smaller in relative terms.

    Therefore the PI contribution to AAPI score distributions would be miniscule, and would not result in such a pronounced (and symmetric) bimodality. The conclusion of significant AA underachievement, combined with significant AA overachievement, is sufficient to explain the data. (at first glance)

  4. Therefore the PI contribution to AAPI score distributions would be miniscule, and would not result in such a pronounced (and symmetric) bimodality. The conclusion of significant AA underachievement, combined with significant AA overachievement, is sufficient to explain the data. (at first glance)

    Yeah, I did think of that and probably should have said so. Still, the conflation of the data bothers me since “model” isn’t applied uniformly to all Asians.

  5. Abhi, consider adding the ‘not’ into the sentence I refer in your post – and then delete this comment.

  6. 6 · Areem said

    …here ARE data /grammarpolicing

    Turn in your badge, grammar-policeman, the Usage Panel is taking you off the case:

    The word data is the plural of Latin datum, “something given,” but it is not always treated as a plural noun in English. The plural usage is still common, as this headline from the New York Times attests: “Data Are Elusive on the Homeless.” Sometimes scientists think of data as plural, as in These data do not support the conclusions. But more often scientists and researchers think of data as a singular mass entity like information, and most people now follow this in general usage. Sixty percent of the Usage Panel accepts the use of data with a singular verb and pronoun in the sentence Once the data is in, we can begin to analyze it. A still larger number, 77 percent, accepts the sentence We have very little data on the efficacy of such programs, where the quantifier very little, which is not used with similar plural nouns such as facts and results, implies that data here is indeed singular.
  7. I’m curious: can any statisticians here explain the very nearly perfect symmetry of the blue curve in the second figure? Intuitively, it just seems unlikely to me.

  8. 11 · BigJoeChang said

    I’m curious: can any statisticians here explain the very nearly perfect symmetry of the blue curve in the second figure? Intuitively, it just seems unlikely to me.

    I’m not a statistician, but both the bell curve in red and the bimodal curve in blue seem to be fitted distributions, rather than the raw data itself. I’ve seen bimodal distributions in raw data, but never anything that symmetric. On the other hand, nearly 1.5 million students took the test in 2007, so even the raw data on the ‘all examinees’ red curve could approach a true normal distribution. But the blue curve does seem fitted, or at least, smoothed.

    BTW, I came across a great JFK quote from his Yale Commencement Address from exactly 46 years ago – June 11, 1962:

    For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.

    Read it or listen to it – here.

  9. What do we have here…four guys Abhi, Rob, Chachji and BigJoeChang – all talking about data sets and how those sets are applied to different situations. Seems to me a good plot for a TV series: Four guys, going from library to library, university to university, year after year, each trying in vain to find the perfect data set algorithm to quench their thirst. I even have a name for the show: Sets and the city! Gotta go – the phone’s ringing. Maybe HBO is calling me…

    M. Nam

  10. Hmmm. I saw the NYTimes article. Thanks for the link from the study.

    I thought it was interesting that there wasn’t any mention of nationality or immigration status. Expecting to find the same test scores and income levels from refugees and indigenous people as those who immigrate on technical work visas does seem little silly but no usually bothers to point that out…

  11. It was only a throwaway line, but I found it interesting that a lot of the stats about college degrees and “Asian Americans” actually also included Asian-international students, as well.

  12. Besides, if we weren’t “model minorities,” then why would Hollywood always portray us so?

    You were being sarcastic right? Please tell me that is not a serious question.

  13. What if by subjective epithet “model” people not only refer to just academics but the fact Asian-Americans are more law abiding, peaceful etc. ? What if by model people refer to prosperity in later life which is not highly correlated to academic excellence i.e. you can be reasonably rich later on but be an avergae student in school.

  14. , but I found it interesting that a lot of the stats about college degrees and “Asian Americans” actually also included Asian-international students

    i saw that too. i don’t think this occurs elsewhere.

    in any case, i had friends who were hard-core into the asian-pacifican-american-student-union stuff. they were obviously envious that they didn’t have all the social pathologies to be activist over as the BSU and MEChA, so they really grabbed onto the data which had available. e.g., relatively lots of welfare dependency for older asian americans (i.e., kids bring over aged parents and put them on state dole). the plight of refugee oriented communities, especially the cambodians and hmong laotians, who have exactly the sort of dislocation and dependency rates which require activists to “make their voices heard” and all that stuff.

  15. here is one of the last slides: We need to collect and report data in a way that allows for further deconstruction of the variation within the AAPI racial category (by ethnicity, nationality, immigration history, and language background).

    We need to hire more Asian American and Pacific Islander faculty, staff, consultants, and researchers to identify and guide work in education at every level, on behalf of all groups, including Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

    Professionals in the K-12 and higher education sectors need to connect with AAPI community leaders and organizations to enhance the cultural capacity of our institutions and improve student outcomes. We need to modify our desired learning outcomes and provide curricula that reflect Asian American and Pacific Islander history, art, literature, and culture.

    does anyone think that brownz are doing better than samoans because of the positive reflection of brown culture in the schools?

  16. i was pretty curious about the vagueness about foreign born students being clustered with native born asian american students. this is all i found in the full report: “Moreover, it remains unclear whether statistics on AAPI participation in U.S. higher education include foreign students from Asia.” there’s not support for this assertion that i can see, it might be true, or it might not, but you could easily check for this i would think, i recall most universities keeping tallies of the provenance of their international students, you could posit alternative models and see what’s more plausible (also check to see how many of the “asian americans” took the TOEFL).

  17. people not only refer to just academics but the fact Asian-Americans are more law abiding, peaceful etc. ?

    People will believe anything. For instance, if I were to use “Dateline NBC: To Catch a Predator” as a guide, I’d say South Asians are pretty well represented amongst law-breakers ;)

    I think one of the points of this study was to show a diversity of experience within what is commonly perceived to be a homogenous group. Acknowledgin the problem is the first step to tailoring solutions that can help these more marginalized communities. Eg. acknowledging that a Cambodian student who checks ‘Asian-American’ on a college application is being put at a disadvantage.

    Contra Costa County in the bay area has a prison population that is made up of 10% ethnic Hmong. The South Bay has had drama with Vietnamese gangstas for as far back as I can remember.

    To me, it’s funny how the sentiment on this board seems to be to re-work the categories so as not to blemish the overall claim to be a ‘model’. The idea remains popular since people pay scant attention to its significance to the larger debate on race in this country. The article pointed out the question, “what does it feel like to be the solution?” which won’t make sense to people unless they understand it’s implication in WEB Du Bois’s original call to black people, “what does it feel like to be the problem?”

  18. 19 · razib said

    does anyone think that brownz are doing better than samoans because of the positive reflection of brown culture in the schools?

    Razib I’m glad you’re on this thread, but let’s talk about the real issue. Not all browns are doing well, and some are doing particularly badly. That’s the takeaway here. For some reason everyone’s talking about Samoans, even after we know they’re probably only about 2% or 3% of the total AAPI numbers, if that. Not that their issues aren’t important.

    The report directly mentions Bengalis and Sri Lankans. So that is the issue, and commentary addressing why their issues might be different from other browns, would be useful.

  19. figure 12, bachelor’s degree or higher: us average – 24.4% asian american – 44.1% pacific islander – 13.8%

    by ethnic group, hmong 7.5% cambodian 9.2% laotian 7.7% vietnamese 19.4% chinese 48.1% thai 38.6% pakistani 54.3% korean 43.8% filipino 43.8% japanese 41.9% other asian 41.4% tongan 8.6% fijian 8.8% mashallese 5.1% 10.5% guamian 14.3% native hawaiian 15.2% other pac islander 17.9%

  20. 21 · razib said

    include foreign students from Asia.” there’s not support for this assertion that i can see, it might be true, or it might not, but you could easily check for this i would think, i recall most universities keeping tallies of the provenance of their international students, you could posit alternative models and see what’s more plausible (also check to see how many of the “asian americans” took the TOEFL).

    Here’s my first person experience. I hope it counts for something!

  21. there’s some OK data in the report. but some of the “myths” they debunk have to have been held by r*tarded people. obviously most asian american students weren’t at elite universities, because there just aren’t that many slots out there. but, a disproportionate number of elite university slots are held by asian americans (though there is a perception that there are unofficial “asian quotas” at some of these schools, in part based in discrepancies between academic performance of the asian americans and the typical student).

  22. tx chaj. i got to jet, but people should read the us census’ asian americans to get a full perspective. here are the proportions of various asian american groups….

    (percentages) chinese 23.8 filipino 18.3 asian indian 16.2 vietnamese 10.9 korean 10.5 japanese 7.8 cambodian 1.8 hmong 1.7 laotian 1.6 pakistani 1.5 thai 1.1 other asian 4.7

  23. chachji writes:>>Not all browns are doing well, and some are doing particularly badly.

    Is there a religious breakup within the browns?

    M. Nam

  24. “We are not models…….we are losers” that is what leftists want to hear. Leftists are wondering why Asian americans are not climbing on the victims of white America gravy train.

  25. Is there a religious breakup within the browns?

    it’s national. asian indians are doing better than pakistanis who are doing better than bangladeshis (to some extent this is a function of the recency of the immigrant communities, bangladeshis are much more DBD than pakistanis who are more DBD than indians). but i doubt there’s a statistically significant difference among muslims, christians, sikhs and hindus within the indian american community that couldn’t be explained by other variables (e.g., sikhs are punjabi, so they reflect punjabi migrationary patterns, etc.). you can see the same pattern in the UK, where they break the census into religious categories for ethnicites. indian muslims (many are ismailis from east africa) have the profile of indian hindus, not pakistani or bangladeshi muslims.

  26. does anyone think that brownz are doing better than samoans because of the positive reflection of brown culture in the schools?

    Razib: I don’t, but I get the feeling that most SMers believe that culture is irrelevant in determining outcome and that money and/or institutional racism is the source of all disparity. This isn’t hubris on my part, Indian culture (which holds education as sacred and many to be spiritually unclean) explains both why you have some groups that are overrepresented in global academia AND why India has the world’s largest population of illiterates.

  27. louiecypher:

    This isn’t hubris on my part, Indian culture (which holds education as sacred and many to be spiritually unclean) explains both why you have some groups that are overrepresented in global academia

    This is both hubris and self-delusion. A culture that holds education in high esteem wouldnt have the world’s largest concentration of illiterates even after 60 years of “independence” from its colonial masters. Secondly, where the heck did you get the idea that indians are over-represented in global academia?

  28. Vyasa: You are slave to a particular meme I see. The Indian elites always valued education but they thought that the peasants/untouchables were unworthy and excluded them. I am not sure how this self-deluded but in any case I invite you to f*ck off.

  29. Oh and Vyasa you tard… I said “some groups”, so don’t just simply divide 1 billion Indians by all of humanity and go off on one of you rants about how we are hardly 1/6th of Nobel prize winners etc.

  30. 33 · louiecypher said

    The Indian elites always valued education but they thought that the peasants/untouchables were unworthy and excluded them. I am not sure how this self-deluded but in any case I invite you to f*ck off.

    Who are these “indian elites”? The indian elite that historically monopolized education was the brahmin caste and the education it valued involved their priestly profession, not the secular, scientific education that is being discussed here. Of course it is seriously delusional of you to claim that indians are over-represented in international academia. The indian group (caste) that you are extolling here is over-represented in indian academia but is that something to be proud of considering how shabby indian education is? No indian college is ranked in the top 100 of the international rankings. Secondly, these educated indian “elite” have proved by their accomplishments that they rank among the most corrupt and incompetent college graduates in the entire world.

  31. Quinn (29)

    “We are not models…….we are losers” that is what leftists want to hear. Leftists are wondering why Asian americans are not climbing on the victims of white America gravy train.

    Troll alert.

    yawn

  32. Secondly, where the heck did you get the idea that indians are over-represented in global academia?

    Indian academics constitute the third largest academic community in the world. As university graduates in a country in which 70 percent of the population is illiterate, and as heirs to one of the most ancient traditions of learning, they are a highly privileged elite. As guardians of the intellectual and political formation of youth in one of the world’s largest democracies and developing nations they hold a unique position of influence and power in the Third World.”

    No indian college is ranked in the top 100 of the international rankings.

    true but, IIT ranks among the top tech colleges and anecdotally, ranks right up there with MIT when it comes to recruiting for silicon valley, tech vc, and quant trading on wall street.

  33. The article, published in 1980, is extremely interesting but, I suspect, for completely different reasons than those that arose in the context of this sub-thread. You can access it in its entirety here.

    The statistic above is based on 1977-78 data from UGC, Delhi: “There are about 180,000 academics in India spread through some 3,000 colleges, 105 universities, and a number of specialized institutions for technology, engineering, management, and other fields. Responsible for the education of 2,500,000 students, they constitute the third largest academic community in the world.”

    In other words, given our population, it is surprising we are not the 2nd largest in the world. A more interesting use of the statistic would be to see how we do in the rankings with respect to teacher:student ratio or the number of academics per million population, etc. Any indicator adjusting for population.

    The article makes no claims about Indian academics outside of India.

  34. Abhi, I’m not sure I’m following your argument. Is it that AA’s really are model minorities, and that those pesky backwards PIs are dragging us down?