February 29, 2012

The white/black test-score gap has been in the news since the 1960s, yet much like Mark Twain supposedly said about the weather, despite all the talk, nobody seems able to do much about it. 

America in the later 21st century will likely be dominated numerically by blacks and Latinos. In 2008, the Census Bureau projected that America’s Hispanic population would increase by 66 million from 2000 to 2050. So far, though, there’s scant evidence that they will have much impact on elites other than as affirmative-action tokens. 

The big news in this century has been the growing Asian-white test-score gap at the high end.

Consider a feature article in The New York Times over the weekend, “€œTo Be Black at Stuyvesant High.”€ It was seemingly commissioned to argue for admissions quotas at the famously competitive Manhattan public high school by pointing out that only 3.6 percent of Stuyvesant’s students are now black or Hispanic, down from 15 percent in 1970. My guess is that the story’s emphasis on a lonely black student was mostly an elaborate framing device for its more interesting but unspoken message: Holy God, look at ALL THE ASIANS!

“€œAlthough Asians comprise only 13 percent of California’s population, three-fifths of the state’s National Merit Scholarship semifinalists have Asian last names.”€

Stuyvesant’s Asian fraction has grown over four decades from six percent to 72.5 percent. The whites who comprise a large majority of New York Times subscribers have seen their share plummet from 79 percent to 24 percent.

A similar pattern can be seen among the top “€œone percent”€ on the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test for high-school juniors. Although the National Merit Scholarship Corporation appears reluctant to discuss its honorees”€™ ethnic makeup, industrious individuals can examine National Merit semifinalists“€™ names on its state-by-state press releases. The NMSC doesn”€™t post these lists online, but some obsessive souls at College Confidential have tracked down a couple dozen here.

For example, California is allotted 1950 semifinalists this year. A reader of mine whose screen name is “€œRec1man”€ counted 974 Northeast Asian surnames and 184 South Asian surnames. Although Asians comprise only 13 percent of California’s population, three-fifths of the state’s National Merit Scholarship semifinalists have Asian last names. (This doesn”€™t count those with Western surnames who no doubt have East Asian Tiger Mothers.) A breakdown of the previous year’s winners proves this isn”€™t a onetime fluke.

(Surname analysis is not foolproof on the individual level, of course. Much to the surprise of some of his South Boston constituents, Senator John F. Kerry (D-MA) was discovered in 2003 to have no Irish in him. And what about “€œfirst-name analysis?”€ I looked for scholars with monikers such as D”€™Quisha or D’sqhan, but nobody with an apostrophe qualified.)

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