A Crossroads in California K-12 Math Education

(Updated October 19, 2021.)

The state of California recently developed a new Mathematics Framework for K-12 curricula, generating considerable controversy. Much of the plan had been actually implemented in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) starting in 2014. SFUSD claims great success with the project, and its publicized statistics have often been cited as a basis for other curricula, including the new statewide plan. Currently, the plan is pending public comment.

In this post, I’ll discuss the motivations underlying this and similar reforms elsewhere in the US, and explain the views of opponents of the plan. I will focus on the San Francisco situation, and will argue that the claims made by SFUSD regarding success of the reform are incorrect and egregiously misleading. Regrettably, it will also be seen that complex racial/class/ideology issues are involved as well.

Motivation

Much of the impetus for these curricular reforms is a laudable desire to improve the math skills of underrepresented minority (URM) students. Indeed, some of the underlying dogma involves anti-racism philosophy.

Among other themes of the philosophy underlying this and other reforms in the US as to how math is taught, the following are especially notable:

  • Abandon the notion of telling kids there is a “right” answer, allegedly “white supremacy culture.”
  • Abandon the idea that students must show their work in their math solutions, again dismissed as “white.”
  • De-emphasize, or downright discourage, offering more challenging courses, notably Calculus, to mathematically-ready students. In San Francisco, these students tend to be white or Asian.

For a while a few years ago, some of the “woke” were even decrying 2+2=4 as purely a “Western” concept, until the claim became a much-ridiculed meme. The SFUSD Board also refused to use acronyms, dismissing them as “white supremacist culture.”

To be sure, a goal of the reforms is to instill confidence in math among URM students, which we all want. The objections by some that early placement of students into ability tracks, typically in the sixth grade, is unfair and counterproductive, have some validity. And some versions of this philosophy are somewhat more nuanced. But as with any movement of this sort, subtleties are lost, and the extremists take conrol, even to the state government level.

Controversy Regarding the New Framework

The California plan, and SFUSD’s already in-place implementation, has generated much controversy, especially among STEM university faculty and parents of K-12 children. Due to my background as a university professor in computer science, a PhD in mathematics, and longtime activist in support of underrepresented minorities (URMs), I share those concerns. I believe the new curricular design will harm the very children the reforms hope to help, while significantly reducing educational quality for mainstream kids.

As of this writing, more than 800 professors, scientists and engineers have signed a petition to California Governor Newsom to revoke the new curricular plans. The governor, who has been defending against a recall effort, has to my knowledge not responded. Some, of course, would say that argues in favor of the recall, given the central importance of math in K-12 education.

Controversy Regarding the SFUSD School Board

Meanwhile, three members of the San Francisco Board of Education (BofE) are facing their own recall challenge. Issues include: BofE’s mishandling of the pandemic in terms of in-person instruction; BofE’s placing priority instead on renaming 44 schools deemed to have ideologically incorrect names (including one named for former-SF Mayor and current US Senator Dianne Feinstein); and BofE’s decision to change the admissions policy of the magnet school, Lowell HS, from test-based to random lottery.

Overview of the SFUSD Curricular Changes

The district has a slide presentation, filled with many graphs showing the impact of the reforms. Slide 2 shows the curricular path under the reforms adopted in February 2014, and implemented starting in the Fall 2014 semester. Under previous policy, students took Algebra 1 in eighth grade, now ninth. The claim was that postponing Algebra 1 by a year would reduce the failure rate. Also, tracking was discontinued, and the notion of heterogeneous classes was celebrated.

College-bound kids used to take Calculus in 12th grade, or even in 11th. Instead, under the new SFUSD program, this became difficult to arrange, and students were encouraged to take AP Statistics instead.

(See further analysis beyond the below. Note too the I analyze some of the qualitative motivations following the data report below.)

The SF BoE Claims: Algebra 1 Failure Rate

The authors of the new California Math Framework base the plan in large part on the claimed success of similar reforms implemented earlier in the SFUSD. As one educational periodical put it,

Many supporters of the new proposal point to examples, such as San Francisco Unified, which in 2014 voted to remove accelerated middle school math classes. Five years after the policy change, the San Francisco Unified graduating class of 2018-19 saw a drop in Algebra 1 repeat rates from 40% to 8%, and 30% of the students in high school were taking courses beyond Algebra 2.

Stanford University professor Jo Boaler, a major proponent of the Math Framework who is often cited in the press, wrote (along with coauthors)

The [SFUSD] policy shift began in earnest five years ago. As of last year, the number of middle-school students with low math-performance rates (students receiving Ds and Fs) dropped by a third. Students in the district who took Algebra 1 in eighth grade in 2014 (the last year it was offered as a stand-alone course to eighth-graders) had a repeat rate of 40 percent. By contrast, the first group of students who took Common Core Math 8 in eighth grade and Algebra 1 for the first time in ninth grade (and who graduated earlier this year) had an Algebra 1 repeat rate of 8 percent. As a result, more students in the district are taking a fourth year of high-school mathematics — and taking advanced classes beyond Algebra 2 — than ever in its history… We congratulate San Francisco Unified on its wisdom in building math sequences that serve all students increasingly well.

These numbers are taken at face value by the press, by legislators and so on. But closer inspection shows a different story.

As noted, the BoE claims a dramatic drop in the Algebra 1 failure rate, from 40% to 8%, from the year before the change to the year of the change. Anyone familiar with educational statistics knows that such a precipitous drop in a major program is virtually unheard of. Could postponing algebra by a mere one year have THAT much of an impact?

Of course, the answer is No. SFUSD declined a freedom-of-information request by a group of concerned San Franciscans to provide the details as to the specific counts that produced those 40% and 8% figures. But the district did provide some other statistics:

There appears to be no way to derive those 40% and 8% figures from the above tables provided by the district, a point conceded by an analyst in the district office. Again, the district declined to provide the numbers making up the numerators and denominators in the 40% and 8% figures.

These were analyzed by educational researcher Ze’ev Wurman, who wrote,

In [2013-]2014, under the previous system, almost 2,400 eighth-graders were placed in algebra, and almost 700 of them scored a C or below; 650 retook algebra in grade nine in 2015. In 2016, almost 3,000 ninth-grade students were placed in algebra, and almost 1,000 of them scored C or below. How many were required to retake algebra? Only 18. In other words, SFUSD changed its criterion for retaking algebra and declared victory, claiming that the change reflects improved achievement. In reality, only 67 percent of students scored an A or B after the change, compared to 70 percent before. So much for the claimed “improvement.”

The “changed criterion” was as follows, at least in part: In implementing the new plan, the district made moving on to Geometry after Algebra 1 (in effect, “passing” Algebra 1) much easier, now requiring only a passing grade in Algebra 1 rather than the old policy, which had been the passing grade AND passing a separate exam. A passing grade is nominally a D, though SFUSD encourages repeating for UC eligibility.

Statewide Test Scores Declined

The most powerful illustration of the failure of the SFUSD reforms is in the statewide test scores. The tests are taken in a student’s junior year, so the last group to take Algebra 1 in eighth grade, the class of 2018, took the exam in 2017. Here are the results, from the California government site:

test year201720182019
% pass53.82%49.88%48.61

So, scores dropped substantially in the two years after the change. As one observer put it, “The SBAC scores from 2017-2019 represent just about the closest thing you could get to a controlled experiment in the field of education. The ‘control group,’ the state of California as a whole, registered a slight increase in proficiency over the same period.”

                                                                                                                                                

(The tests were not held in 2020, due to the pandemic.)


Impact on Low-SES Students

Again, we see a devastating effect of the BofE policy on statewide math scores, in this case for low-Socioeconomic Status students:

test year20152016201720182019
% pass45.00%46.00%49.89%43.97%41.66%

Again, that 2017 testing year number consisted of the last cohort of students to matriculate under the old plan. As in the previous table, the percentages are for students meeting or exceeding state standards.

So, the numbers had actually been going up under the old plan, then declined substantially after the new plan was implemented.

This and the similar chart above form a powerful indictment of the new SFUSD plan, and by extension, the pending California plan.

Note too: Children from families of means — both financial and awareness of options — are harmed less than are the more vulnerable kids. The well-off famiies can compensate for the low-quality compressed Algebra 2/Precalculus course (see below), for instance, by having their chldren take private courses, with a $700 course from APEX, or hire private tutors.

The Role of Calculus

The national College Board (a private company) offers AP examinations in a number of basic college-level subjects, including Calculus (AB, BC) and Statistics. Though AP was originally billed as a way to shorten one’s college coursework via credit-by-examination, it eventually became a major criterion for admission to selective universities. Hence the high concern among parents and students regarding difficulty in enrolling in Calculus under the new policy.

Among the math AP courses, Calculus is much more rigorous than Statistics, and thus much more important for impressing university admissions committees. Here is where the timing of Algebra 1 becomes crucial:

Under the old system, a student would take Calculus in the 12th grade or even 11th. The latter is preferable, as it meant that the student would have taken a full year of Calculus before submitting her applications to college, as well having taken the AP exam. Taking the course in 12th grade would still be helpful, as the student would have a semester of Calculus and possibly a Calculus teacher’s letter of recommendation. But moving Algebra 1 from eighth grade to ninth made it impossible to take Calculus even in the 12th grade.

Compression of Algebra 2/Precalculus:

As the San Francisco postponement of Algebra 1 to ninth grade left no room for Calculus, many parents were up in arms. There was a major backlash especially among Asian and white parents in the district, and indeed Asians have been in the forefront of the current recall drive to remove three members of the BofE.

The BofE responded by combining Algebra 2 and Precalculus, each a year long, into one single-year course. The title of the new course is Algebra 2/Precalculus Compression. As the name implies, that meant either skimping on or skipping over many topics in each course. According to one source, the compressed version is missing 25% of basic topics, and missing all advanced topics.

In other words, the basic quality of instruction was compromised.

The SF BoE Claims: Advanced Math Enrollment: AP Calculus vs. AP Statistics

The BofE decided to funnel students into AP Statistics courses instead of AP Calculus. Slide 9 in the BofE presentation shows the increase in AP Stat enrollment, at the expense of AP Calculus.

AP Stat is much, much less mathematically rigorous than Calculus. The college courses it would count toward are of the “Statistics for English majors” type, with absolutely minimal math content. To claim it as “Advanced Math” as the BofE does in Slide 9 is highly misleading.

The BofE’s reasoning was that in this era of Big Data, Statistics is more relevant than Calculus to most students, so the course would among other things prepare some students for careers in Data Science. As a statistician and former Statistics professor, I consider this very highly misleading.

A college Statistics or Data Science major requires Calculus and further advanced math, notably linear algebra. AP Calculus would thus be valuable. By contrast, AP Stat would typically not count as credit toward a Statistics or Data Science major; it is too watered-down.

I do agree that understanding Statistics is important for an informed citizenry. However, very few high school teachers have the depth to teach this subject to that end. Though the math content is minimal, the subject is riddled with subtleties, ignorance of which can lead one seriously astray. Frankly, I do not believe this is a proper topic for high school curricula.

Mode of Instruction

The BofE’s obsession with eliminating tracking led to vast disparities between the least- and most-skilled students within the same classroom. This was justified by the research of the academic cited earlier, Jo Boaler, who wrote (apparently not about SFUSD),

This article describes the ways in which the mathematics department of an urban, ethnically diverse school, brought about high and equitable mathematics achievement. The teachers employed heterogeneous grouping and complex instruction, an approach designed to counter status differences in classrooms. As part of this approach teachers encouraged multi-dimensional classrooms, valued the perspectives of different students, and encouraged students to be responsible for each another. The work of students and teachers at Railside was equitable partly because students achieved more equitable outcomes on tests, but also because students learned to act in more equitable ways in their classrooms. Students learned to appreciate the contributions of students from different cultural groups, genders and attainment levels, a behavior that I have termed relational equity. This article describes the teaching practices that enabled the department to bring about such important achievements.

Note that the overriding theme here is ideology and racial justice, rather than improved math skills. Dr. Boaler did indeed claim improvement in the latter, but I am always skeptical about statistics unless I see the raw data. It does sound plausible to me that the experiment did improve the motivation of the weaker students, resulting in improved performance. But there are other ways to motivate kids than weakening the curriculum.

One of the tenets of this “kumbaya” teaching philosophy is to have students work in groups. My experience over several decades of teaching is that this does not work; it is too passive. It is worthwhile as an instructional supplement, but should not be the main focus.

Race, Class and Ideology Issues

Earlier, we noted that many in the URM educational community view the math curricular reforms in racial/class terms, e.g. with obtaining the right answer and showing one’s work being dismissed as “white.” This is a key point.

BofE member Alison Collins has been under fire for making a series of anti-Asian tweets, which is especially concerning in light of the wave of anti-Asian violence in recent months. (Asians make up 35% of the San Francisco student body.) Some of her tweets that have been much quoted are that Asians “use white supremacy thinking to get ahead,” are “house n*****s”, and “hoard resources.” Collins was not on the board when the math curriculum was changed (she was a parent advocate) and when she made the tweets, but her comments are consistent with the general views in the “woke” education/activist community nationwide that there is an “Asian problem.” California legislator Cristina Garcia, for instance, exclaimed, “This makes me feel like I want to punch the next Asian person I see in the face,” an astonishing remark from an elected official, again especially with the current spate of anti-Asian violence.

One aspect of the national conversation that especially rankles the “woke” activists is the notion of Asians as the Model Minority. Many Black (and some Asian) activists commonly use the term white adjacency to decry Asians’ (and others’) perceived status as “honorary whites.” The term is quite prevalent in “woke” literature on race, used for example repeatedly in this book review. Here is a typical view:

Chow says the model minority myth-based on the stereotype that Asian Americans are hard working, law-abiding individuals and the false perception that such qualities have led to their success over other racial groups — has played a significant role in creating a wedge between Asian Americans and other BIPOC communities. “We were painted as an example, a ‘good minority.’ And then there were examples of ‘bad minorities,’ and that was perpetuated, which created even more divide,” Chow says. He says that among the earlier generation of Asian Americans who immigrated to the U.S., many assimilated to white adjacency in hopes that it would be the quickest path to safety and stability in the country.

Of course, this view is far off the mark. Asian immigrants proceed in the US exactly as they had in Asia, placing a high premium on education and hard work in the economy; it’s not a matter of “defensive assimilation” at all. But as can be seen above, the Asians are viewed as sad “white wannabes” and racial traitors by the “woke.” Collins wrote, “Many Asian Am. believe they benefit from the ‘model minority’ BS,” and, as noted, called Asians “house n*****s.”

AP is basically an elitist institution. The high schools with a lot of offerings are typically populated by well-off students who aspire to Ivy League universities. This elitist nature of AP ties into Collins’ remark about the Asian students “using white supremacy thinking to get ahead.” Indeed, ironically, the AP website is titled “Get Ahead with AP.” AP Calculus in San Francisco, taken mainly by Asians and whites, was thus viewed with disfavor, and replaced by the more plebian — and much less mathematically challenging — AP Statistics.

Many URM teachers put ideology ahead of the 3 Rs. LA Teachers Union President Cecily Myart-Cruz told LA Magazine,

“There is no such thing as learning loss,” she responds when asked how her insistence on keeping L.A.’s schools mostly locked down over the last year and a half may have impacted the city’s 600,000 kindergarten through 12th-grade students. “Our kids didn’t lose anything. It’s OK that our babies may not have learned all their times tables. They learned resilience. They learned survival. They learned critical-thinking skills. They know the difference between a riot and a protest. They know the words insurrection and coup.

To Be Clear

A few points to make sure readers of this post know where I am coming from:

  • I myself once proposed a lottery for Lowell admission. My version was less extreme than that of the BofE, as under my plan test scores would still be used to some extent, but I support the idea in principle. What I object to is the apparent anti-Asian motivation for the policy.
  • I oppose tracking of students. The decision of whether a student takes a more sophisticated math course should be up to the parents and the child, not the diktat of some teacher.
  • I agree with a point made by Collins that some Asian immigrants have unhealthy attitudes toward Blacks and Latinos.
  • I am not a fan of the Tiger Mom view of educating kids.

However, none of this changes my view that the BofE took a tragic wrong turn in adopting its current policy.

Summary and Conclusions

The proposed California Math Framework is modeled largely on the San Francisco curriculum, and its claimed justification is largely the claims of “success” in San Francisco. Yet those latter claims do not stand up to close scrutiny, and the quality of instruction has been demonstrably reduced:

  • The much-vaunted failure rate reduction from 40% to 8%, is not borne out by the data at all. The district cannot or will not show the details of those numbers, and they concede the numbers are not consistent with the data that the district did provide.
  • SFUSD performance on the statewide math test declined substantially after the math policy change.
  • Access to Calculus for the more-skilled students greatly deteriorated. In order to accommodate the policy change, a two-year course sequence leading to Calculus was shoehorned into a single year, with much topical material being jettisoned.
  • The reforms, in both SFUSD and nationwide, appear to be driven in significant part by ideology regarding race and class, rather than sound science.

Clearly, the SFUSD policy is a failure, and thus the California plan thus needs a thorough re-assessment, with genuine collaboration with stakeholders, not unilateral decree by ideologues.

The Economist reported in August 2021

…”net exits” from San Francisco (those leaving minus those arriving) rose by 649% — from 5,200 to nearly 39,000 — in the last three quarters of 2020.

Most of the ills of the city have ideological roots: the “woke” takeover of the schools, seen above; alarming levels of unbridled crime, ranging from overt, unchallenged shoplifting to horrifying attacks on Asian seniors, all viewed as due to the “woke” DA, who also is facing a recall; vast “tent cities” of the homeless, with broad-daylight drug dealing and use, prostitution etc., again viewed as due in part to the DA.

Meanwhile, there is an exodus of major tech firms from the San Francisco Bay Area, e.g. with Oracle moving its headquarters to Austin, Texas. Why stay in California with poor schools and declining quality of life?

California is indeed at a crossroads. As a lifelong liberal and a mathematician, I call on the state government to reject the proposed math curriculum, and reverse the coming further decline of the state.

Kamala Harris’ Holiday Faux Pas

VP Kamala Harris caused a stir with her tweet yesterday, “Have a nice [holiday] weekend!”, none of the usual politician talk of “Let us pause to reflect as we honor those who gave their lives for their country.” But I really don’t see why people are so surprised.

I don’t think this error of commission was deliberate. Instead, it’s a matter of how Harris views the world and the nation. She is the leftist daughter of two leftists. The military theme of the holiday is the last thing that would come to mind for her. It’s just a three-day weekend.

No doubt, if an adviser had suggested that she make an appropriate remark, she would have come up with something, say a visit to Arlington or a Bay Area military cemetery, or maybe commemorating a Black hero of some war or even the Japanese-American soldiers who fought heroically in WW II. Impossible to imagine, say, AOC doing even that.

As our nation becomes more and more polarized, we will find that more and more of our elected officials, on both the Left and the Right will be, shall we say, “nontraditional.” If someone had told me 10 or 15 years ago that we’d have members of Congress like AOC and Ilhan Omar, I’d be in total disbelief. And former Pres. Trump was nontraditional too, with his larger-than-life persona, and his being the subject of much criticism from the Right in the 2015-2016 election campaign that he was not a “real” conservative.

A related point about the nontraditional nature of many of today’s elected officials is immigrant status. Omar was a refugee, and Harris’ parents were immigrants. Quite a contrast to the many-generational roots of most presidents before Obama, a rather inbred group. One point in the 2000 election was that Bush and Gore were actually distant cousins.

So, what will less-deep American roots mean for US politicians in the coming years? As someone who has lived in immigrant households all my life, I know that children of immigrants tend to have different views of the world and nation than do sons and daughters of natives, and yes, possibly have less of an emotional connection to those who perished in past US wars. On the other hand, many immigrants are even more patriotic than the natives; say what you will about Harris’ folks, but their driving force was a keen desire to make America better.

So, Harris’ slip-up was actually rather telling. Some Americans will actually find it a refreshing change, while others may take it as an example of American decline. Take your pick. 🙂

Anti-Asian Violence and the Model Minority

As someone with longtime, deep connections to the Asian American community, I am profoundly disturbed by the recent spate of anti-Asian violence. As a longtime activist in improving conditions for African Americans, it is very troubling to me that the perpetrators of anti-Asian violence are disproportionately Black. And as a longtime admirer of the intense Asian American dedication to educational and career success, it is quite disturbing that there seems to be a connection of this success to the violence.

Even more frustrating is that the “woke” Asian American activists, largely made up of Asian American Studies professors whose creed is Critical Race Theory, are exhibiting willful ignorance of the Black aspect of the problem. We can’t solve the problem without understanding its nature.

Many Asians are getting hurt, physically, viciously. But the Asian “woke” insist that the problem can be solved by “education” and “restorative justice,” rather than increased policing. The sad, tragic truth is that these Asian activists care much more about their ideology than about the Asian victims.

The Reality

  • The “woke” Asian activists’ denial of the Model Minority concept is political and ideological, not real.
  • The children of even impoverished, blue collar Asian immigrants tend to excel in school. The strong cultural component of their success is undeniable.
  • Sadly, a disproportionate number of anti-Asian hate crimes are committed by Black Americans.

Here are the details:

The “Woke” and the Model Minority

There is nothing the “woke” Asian-Americans hate more than the Model Minority (MM) portrayal of Asians in the US. MM is viewed as presenting Asians as the minority with the “good” culture, implying that the cultures of African-Americans and Americans of Latino descent are less good. To be sure, labeling various minority groups as “better” and “lesser” is highly offensive and counterproductive, and should be unacceptable to all of us. But it especially rankles the “woke” Asian activists, as it runs counter to their simplistic image of the plight of the Black and Latino underclass as being due wholly to white supremacy and systemic racism.

It also sets up conservatives with an equally simplistic view that MM shows social programs to help the underclass are not needed. Take real estate, for instance. Even in the liberal Bay Area, racially restrictive housing policies remained at least through the 1950s, causing many African Americans to miss great real estate booms, and making it difficult for their descendants to now get into the market. Yet many Asian immigrants, arriving in the US with very little, somehow manage to buy houses. Ergo, the conservatives say, racial problems are minimal and poverty is not a problem for government to address.

So the Asian activists deny the reality of MM. “We’re not ‘Honorary Whites,'” they say to Blacks. “We’re victims, just like you.” One of the woke, Dao-Yi Chow, put it this way:

Chow says the model minority myth—based on the stereotype that Asian Americans are hard working, law-abiding individuals and the false perception that such qualities have led to their success over other racial groups—has played a significant role in creating a wedge between Asian Americans and other BIPOC communities. “We were painted as an example, a ‘good minority.’ And then there were examples of ‘bad minorities,’ and that was perpetuated, which created even more divide,” Chow says.

Apparently, many African Americans don’t see it that way. There is emerging evidence that the MM notion is breeding Black resentment against Asians, contributing to the tragic wave of anti-Asian violence we are now seeing.

 

Black-on-Asian Violence

Dept. of Justice figures cited by journalist Andrew Sullivan indicate that the assailants in Asian incidents are disproportionately Black nationwide, committed at a much higher rate than the Black share of the US population:

…24 percent such attacks are committed by whites; 24 percent are committed by fellow Asians; 7 percent by Hispanics; and 27.5 percent by African-Americans…[even though Blacks comprise only] 13 percent of the population…”

His own analysis of NYPD data found:

They record 20 [hate crime] arrests in 2020. Of those 20 offenders, 11 were African-American, two Black-Hispanic, two white, and five white Hispanics.

So, Blacks comprised 55% of these arrests, even though they are only 24.3% of the population of New York.

A Newsweek op-ed claims most anti-Asian hate crimes are not perpetrated by Blacks. In terms of raw numbers, it may be true, but again, viewed in terms of population percentages — there are 4 times as many whites as Blacks in the US — the problem, sadly, is disproportionately Black, as seen in the DOJ data above.

A report on anti-Asian hate crimes in Los Angeles County found that in 2020,

In cases in which a suspect was identified, 42% were white, followed by Latino/as (36%) and African Americans (19%)…The previous year the largest number of suspects in anti-Asian crimes were Latino/as (42%), followed by whites (32%) and blacks (26%).

This is significant because nationally there has been speculation that African Americans were most frequently suspects in anti-Asian crimes.

This again misses the point: The issue is not whether majority of anti-Asian hate crimes are Black, but rather that they are disproportionately Black. The LA County population is 9% Black . The report data cited above show Blacks are alarmingly overrepresented in anti-Asian hate crimes: Blacks comprise 9% of the population but commit 19% of the anti-Asian hate crimes. There is a Black problem.

The Newsweek piece’s cited research paper (which did restrict its analysis to violent crimes) state that anti-Asian hate crimes are different from other hate crimes in that the offenders are more likely to be non-white. They add, “This finding may be attributed to animosity toward the ‘model minority’ from other minority groups.” I’ll return to this point below.

Bias in Reports by “Woke” Researchers/Activists

The activists use a broad definition going far beyond violence, including taunts and even employment discrimination, hurtful but less relevant to my focus here on violence. After one badly flawed and biased “woke” study emerged from a University of Michigan researcher, I attempted to engage with the author, stating that academic rigor and completeness must prevail over ideology. I pointed out that the incidents analyzed by the study were mainly nonviolent; the study’s own summary noted that it involved “1023 incidents…679 incidents of anti-Asian harassment and vandalism and 344 incidents of stigmatizing and discriminatory statements, images, policies, and proposals.” Only a small number were violent, and in many of those the race of the perpetrator was unknown.

I also pointed out how selective the study was, in not including evidence contrary to its theme of white anti-Asian hate. The author agreed — but refused to update her report.

Black and Latino “Leaders”

Of course only a small number of African-Americans are committing these crimes, and it would be easy to dismiss this as the actions of a few thugs. But equally concerning are comments and actions by Black and Latino leaders. Black San Francisco School Board member Alison Collins has made a number of anti-Asian tweets. She resents Asians for believing “that Model Minority BS,” and accused Asians of “using white supremacy thinking…to get ahead,” referring to Asians as “house n*****s.”

Though the board distanced itself from Collins, many Asians view various actions of the board, notably changing admission to the academically-selective Lowell High School to a random lottery, as anti-Asian. (Disclosure: I myself have proposed a partial lottery system for Lowell. My point here is the apparent motivation on the part of the Board, not whether the policy is worthy or not.)

California State Legislator Cristina Garcia also has problems with Asians. Frustrated with widespread Chinese opposition to Affirmative Action (with an implicit connection to MM), she talked of feeling “like I want to punch the next Asian” she encountered.

Indeed, Collins’ view of Asians “using white supremacy thinking…to get ahead” is common among the “woke.” They’ve even coined a term for it, white adjacency. Here again is activist Dai-Yi Chow, joined by an activist journalist, Lisa Ling:

[Chow] says that among the earlier generation of Asian Americans who immigrated to the U.S., many assimilated to white adjacency in hopes that it would be the quickest path to safety and stability in the country.

The March 21 Instagram Live discussion between Woodall and Ling directly addressed the subject. “White supremacy always tries to convince those who are non-white that they must either assimilate, or somehow come to terms with the standard of whiteness,” Woodall says. He notes that in referring to “white,” he is discussing a mindset and not a color. “And if we don’t have access to that mindset—and quite honestly, I don’t want access to it—the question then becomes, how do we dissolve a society that is predicated upon that mindset in being in control.”

The egregiousness of this distortion is breathtaking. The “woke” are saying that Asian immigrants to the US, by engaging in the same diligence in school and work they are famous for in Asia, are merely pathetic losers who want to “act white.”

Again, Collins and Chow and not alone. Here is a report on the New York City Dept. of Education:

A city DOE-sponsored panel designed to combat racism told parents that Asian American students “benefit from white supremacy” and “proximity to white privilege,” an outraged mom told The Post… The panel was helmed by the Center for Racial Justice in Education, a group being paid about $400,000 by the DOE, led by Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza…Two CRJE presenters at the February meeting — outlined a racial-advantage hierarchy…The presenters told the room that Asians were on the upper rungs, enough in “proximity to white privilege” to “benefit from white supremacy,” Flinn recalled.

The Model Minority Notion IS Real

Yes, to a great extent, the Model Minority notion is real, at least for East and South Asians. The Asian community activists dismiss Asian-American educational successes as due to immigration policy, formulated initially in 1965 and then in more depth in 1990, that favors educated professionals. In other words, the activists deny that the fundamental issue is one of Asian culture; it’s simply due to socioeconomic class, they say. But it IS indeed culture; the fact is that, due to a cultural reverence for education, even kids of low-income Asian families tend to do very well in school.

While it’s true that many highly educated Asians immigrate to the US via employer sponsorship in the tech industry, there are many others who come here through immigration law on family ties. These tend to be of low levels of education. In New York City, for instance, they work as, say, dishwashers or hotel maids and just barely scrape by financially. Yet their children tend to shine academically.

At New York’s elite Stuyvesant High School, Asians make up 74% of the student body, a figure that dwarfs their share of the population. And Asians represent over 90% of students who qualify for free or subsidized lunch; these are not children of PhDs, as implicitly claimed by the Asian activists. A study by the Center for New York City Affairs found that Asians kids are getting top math scores relative to other groups, across ALL income levels. Asians at the lowest incomes score at or above high-income Whites.

The “woke” activists also offer the explanation that Asian immigrants, by virtue of having the gumption to uproot themselves and move to the US, are not representative of Asian culture.This argument has been made by anti-racism author Ibram X. Kendi. But of course this argument fails, as the diligence of school kids in Asia is well known. In international test scores such as PISA, China is on top, closely followed by Korea. These tests are imperfect measures, but the extraordinary diligence of these children is clear; it is NOT just a trait of the immigrants to the US.

 Indeed, if the “gumption argument” were valid, why are the kids of Latino immigrants doing poorly? The Latinos have just as much gumption as the Asians.

A Personal Example

Small world. It so happens that one of the most prominent pioneers of the Asian American Studies discipline, revered by the “woke” activists, is the late Don Nakanishi, my childhood friend. Don’s family lived next door to mine in the City Terrace neighborhood of East LA. He certainly did not come from the highly-educated socioeconomic class. His father worked in the LA morning produce markets, and his mom was a seamstress. He attended Roosevelt High School, predominantly working-class Latino. Yet Don took the classical Asian American upward mobility path. He was a star student academically in high school, was captain of the football team, and even was elected “Boy Mayor of LA.” He went on to Yale for his Bachelor’s degree and then Harvard for his PhD, followed by an outstanding career on the UCLA faculty.

In Don’s memory, UCLA bestows the Don Nakanishi Award, “for Outstanding Engaged Scholarship in Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies,” a highly prestigious honor in the Asian American Studies field. It is thus ironic that the Asian American activists, who regard Don as a giant in the field, are denying the success of Don and hundreds of thousands like him, people that through the Asian cultural value on education have gone from humble beginnings to great success in various professions. (Don’s brother Mike became a dentist.)

 

Solutions

Denying the reality of MM will not solve the problems. On the contrary, Asians should be praised for MM, and we should look into possible ways that other groups, even Whites, might learn from them.

What then can and should be done? Start at the top, with people like Collins and Garcia, and the attitudes of the SF board as a whole. Incredibly, Garcia received just a “talking to” by Assembly Speaker Rendon.

The “woke” solution, education, is long on meeting the activists’ ideological goals but short on actual effectiveness. Simply talking about, say, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 is not going to sway those who engage in violence, let alone people like Collins and Garcia. But statements by prominent Blacks would help. NBA star Steph Curry has spoken out in support of Asians; we need more Black athletes to do so. And though anathema to the “woke,” who call for “restorative justice rather than criminalization,” there is an urgent need for more police officers in Asian neighborhoods.

On the other hand, Collins was correct in saying many Asians look down on Black people. The Asians need to understand the deep effects that a history of slavery, Jim Crow and so on have on today’s Black underclass. It’s not so simple as “You should do as we Asians do.”

Finally, please don’t politicize the issue. Let’s put politics and ideology aside and protect the Chinese grandmas, OK?

(As always, views here are my own, not those of the University of California, Davis. I have added some material after the original posting.)

Poverty, Academia and PC Speech

Like many of you, I have been increasingly concerned about the stifling of free speech on US university campuses. Meanwhile, a lifetime concern of mine has been the elimination of poverty, both US and worldwide. These two interests converge in this disturbing article in Inside Higher Ed.

The piece opens with

Lehigh University asked professors in its business school to advise the new Biden administration on their areas of expertise via short “kitchen table talk” videos. But one professor’s short talk on poverty, including its relationship to race, proved divisive — and that the topic needed a more thorough analysis, the university said. So after temporarily removing the video for review, Lehigh reposted it alongside additional context from other scholars.

“Relationship to race” here meant that the professor, Frank Gunter, downplayed the Race Card: “Gunter explains that he wants to dispel the following ‘widely held’ beliefs about poverty: that it is ‘mostly a matter of race,’ that it’s a ‘generational curse’ and that the poor have ‘no agency.'” In particular, Gunter cites a Brookings study that found that three simple actions would in most cases enable the impoverished to join the middle class: “finish high school, work full-time, wait until age 21 to get married and have children after marriage.”

Of course, this is similar to the views of sociologist/politician Daniel Moynihan back in the 60s and 70s, which later fell out of favor, and I’ve generally been critical of Brookings for its “hired gun” nature. Yet the study is bipartisan, and even Gunter’s critics don’t seem to be vigorously disputing its points, merely calling the Moynihan view as “discredited.”

The critics do correctly note a major error of omission in Gunter’s video: Though his statement that most of the poor are not black, and most black people are not poor, as is indeed correct, he fails to note that the poor are disproportionately black; the poverty rate is higher among black people than in the general populace. Gunter was remiss in not including this in his original video.

The critics also note that various government programs have been successful in reducing poverty. One may debate as to whether Gunter erred in not mentioning this, but the critics themselves are remiss for not mentioning a government program that research shows has contributed to black poverty — an immigration policy that brings high levels of low-skilled immigration.

In addition, the debate seems to have overlooked the obvious key point: If indeed the three “silver bullets” of the Brookings study are statistically accurate, then why are many young black people not taking advantage of them? And even more importantly, what can be done to change that?

As the Lehigh faculty senate commented, “Too many times statements are made in response to uncomfortable topics that do little to address the issue at hand.” Lehigh, by now restoring the video and pairing it with one expounding an opposing view, should be applauded for attempting to start a genuine debate. This would not happen at many other universities these days, and sadly, I don’t expect it to occur within the Biden administration.

On Trump, Biden and America’s Disgrace

On November 27, 1978, San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Dan White snuck a gun into City Hall. He murdered Mayor George Moscone and fellow Supervisor Harvey Milk, then turned himself in to the police. His confession audio recording was made public.

There is a difference, mind you, between condoning and understanding. The latter is crucial. White had been subject to relentless political bullying by Moscone and Milk, enduring their smirks when he complained. Much to my surprise, I found myself sympathizing with him as I listened to the audio.

President Donald Trump believes the Democrats and the mainstream press have been out to get him ever since he took office. I urge everyone to read his controversial call to Georgia Sec. of State Brad Raffensperger, which for me evokes the memory of the Dan White tape.

Yes, Trump too can be a bully, but there is no question that the press in particular has been grossly unfair to him, in almost any aspect. Of course, just as White had no right to resort to murder, Trump has been wrong in disgracing himself in the last few weeks.

Did Trump actually win the election, as he claims? Seems doubtful to me, but there is no doubt that there were indeed voting irregularities, e.g. in the Pennsylvania changing its voting rules late in the game. Yet Trump should have conceded the election at some point, and accepted the situation for the sake of the nation and, especially, for the sake of his historical legacy.

I doubt that Trump meant for his supporters to mob the Capitol yesterday, but he least had the responsibility to warn his supporters not to engage in violence. On the other hand, regarding these cries from the Dems and the press that yesterday’s event was an attack on democracy, I can only offer a hollow laugh. Though a lifelong Democrat, I voted for neither Biden nor Trump, largely because I believe the Dems have become the antithesis of their party name. Plenty of disgrace to go around, I’d say.

What now? Biden has said his priority will be to reunify the country. Even if he is sincere, that would be a herculean task. The mob in DC yesterday was not representative of either the nation or the GOP, but there is widespread feeling among Republicans and even independents that the election was tampered with. If Biden has any hope of unifying the nation, he must recognize that, rather than treating them as kooks. And by the way, he should urge the media, notably the federally-funded NPR, to do the same.

Another action Biden could take towards national unity would be to recognize Trump’s solid accomplishments, especially Operation Warp Speed. (And he should also ask the states why they are so slow in using the vaccines they’ve received.)

Though I voted for neither man, I believe America is due for a reboot. Biden is the one with the finger on the Reset button.Let’s see if Biden really means what he says.