The surge in violence against Asian Americans in the United States since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic is clear evidence that they are the targets of pernicious discrimination.

Going back much further than the pandemic, U.S. history is fraught with anti-Asian violence and native discrimination, including decades of exclusion from immigration and citizenship that kept the Asian American population at a mere 0.6 percent of the country's as late as 1960, according to the Pew Research Center.  

But in an educational context, those biases play out in very unexpected ways. In ''The Asian American Achievement Paradox,'' which I wrote with Min Zhou and is based on 162 interviews of Asian, Hispanic, Black and white adults in Los Angeles, we found that American precollege students benefit from ''stereotype promise''.

Teachers assume they are smart, hard-working, high achieving and morally deserving, which can boost the grades of academically mediocre Asian American students.

We found that teachers' positive biases of Asian American students sometimes led them to place even low achieving Asian American students on competitive academic tracks, including honors and Advancement Placement classes that can be gateways to competitive four-year universities.

Once there, we found that these students took their schoolwork more seriously, spent more time on their homework than they had previously and were placed in classes with high-achieving peers, thereby boosting their outcomes.

Affirmative action is on trial again. This time, opponents of race-conscious college admission practices are claiming that Asian Americans are hurt by it.  

The plaintiffs in Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. Presidents & Fellows of Harvard College, which presented oral arguments before the U.S.Supreme Court on Monday, alleges that Harvard holds-

Asian American applicants to higher American standards and rates them lower than other students on personal characteristics, such as fit, courage and likeability. The proposed solution is to abandon race as a factor in admissions decisions.

This approach is based on a fundamental misconception. Asian Americans face bias in education, but not in the direction the plaintiffs claim. Research that I and others have done shows that K-12 teachers and schools may actually give Asian Americans a boost based on assumptions about race.

Affirmative action policies currently in place in university admission do not account for the positive bias that Asian Americans may experience before they apply to college. Abandoning race as a consideration in admissions would further obscure this bias.

A VIETNAMESE American student I'll call Ophelia [ all names have been changed to protect the participants' privacy under ethical research guidelines ] described herself as ''not very intelligent'' and recalled nearly being held back in second grade because of her poor academic performance.

Ophelia had a C average throughout elementary and junior high school, and when she took an exam to be put in Advanced Placement classes for high school English and science, she failed.

Ophelia's teachers placed her, with her mother's support, on the AP track anyway. Once there, she said that something ''just clicked,'' and she began to excel in her classes.

''I wanted to work hard and prove I was a good student,'' Ophelia explained. ''I think the competition kind of increases your want to do better.''

The Master Essay continues. The World Students Society thanks author Jennifer Lee, a sociology professor at Columbia University and a 2022-23 member of the Institute for Advanced Study.

She is a co-author of ''The Asian American Achievement Paradox.''


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