Why are Asian-American students dominating “elite” schools?

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (“TJ” for short), is a selective DC-area magnet school designed to provide an elite, high-tech education for the most academically gifted students in Northern Virginia.

The school offers rigorous study in advanced college-level offerings like electrodynamics, neurobiology, and artificial intelligence.

High octane academics, for sure … offered to the best and brightest.

What’s the rub?

Demographic mix.

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The school’s newly accepted Class of 2022 is 65 percent Asian, 23 percent white, five percent Hispanic, and two percent black.

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20 years ago, the concern was that Black and Hispanic representation at TJ was less than half their demographic mix in Fairfax County – the “feeder” county.

Several initiatives were launched to increase Black and Hispanic representation, including early identification and proactive outreach to high potential minority children; supplementary in-school and extracurricular programs to teach and mentor them; and more ready access to prep and gateway courses such as Algebra.

While undertaking those initiatives, something unexpected happened.

The numbers of Black and Hispanic students applying and enrolled at TJ remained stalled at the pre-initiative levels. So, that’s still a concern.

But, during the same time period (and unrelated to the minority initiatives), the number of white students declined sharply … and the number of Asian-American students has soared.

Why is that?

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According to Hilde Kahn.  the author of “Closing the Excellence Gap.”

Asian parents place a higher priority than others on the opportunity afforded by STEM education.

More specifically, a 2018 survey of TJ parents revealed that:

1) Asian parents disproportionately enroll their children, regardless of how gifted they are in math, in  advanced academic programs and STEM-related extracurricular activities.

2) Many Asian parents have advanced degrees in STEM subjects and are able to tutor their children in these subjects.

3) Asian parents of all income levels invest in substantial after-school, weekend and summer enrichment programs

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In summary, the growing number of Asian students who win admission demonstrates the critical factor: preparation.

That comes in the form of high-quality math instruction, particularly outside the classroom, and in the thousands of hours spent both engaged in, and preparing for, extracurricular STEM-related academic activities.

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Hilde’s mega-conclusion:

“We need to recognize that even the best public school systems … cannot by themselves make up the difference between what some parents provide for their children and what others do not.”

In other words, the schools can only do so much.

They can counter-weight, but can’t overcome disinterested (or absent) parents who don’t champion education as a priority path forward.

It all comes back to home, family and parenting.

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