Politics & Policy

Homework, Por Favor

A basic strategy for Hispanic-student science success. In English.

Unless the educational achievement of non-Asian minorities in the U.S. improves, America’s imminent demographic changes do not bode particularly well for its technological competitiveness. By 2023, the majority of youth under 18 will be non-white, and the greatest portion of non-whites will be Hispanic. The number of college-aged Latinos is expected to nearly triple, from 3 million today to 8 million by 2040, but the number of Hispanics actually enrolled in college will just double — to 2 million. Once in college, few of those students will graduate with a science or engineering degree. In 2006, only 7 percent of bachelors degrees in science, math, and technology were awarded to Hispanics, and the trends are not promising. In 2007, the math SAT scores of Hispanic students in California, home to the largest proportion of Hispanics in the country, dropped to 450, while rising for whites and Asians to 549 and 564, respectively.

#ad#Here’s a suggestion to college presidents and their vast retinue of bureaucratic non-entities: If you want to preserve America’s scientific edge, shut down your school’s MEChA student chapters, your Latino-freshmen orientations, and your Chicano-studies majors. Participation in “diversity functions,” it turns out, torpedoes the grades of Hispanic science majors. Hispanic science students who spend time hanging out at Aztlan-empowerment clubs and the like have significantly lower grades than Hispanic science students who stay away from the multicultural ghetto. What improves Hispanic college students’ science GPAs? Make sure you’re sitting down: doing homework.

Such are the findings of a study published in the July/August Journal of College Student Development, proving that there is no piece of common sense too self-evident not to startle our pedagogical elites. The study examines the factors that affect the performance of Hispanic science majors. Its authors, a professor and graduate student at the University of Southern California’s education school, are clearly not happy with the results.

Darnell Cole and Araceli Espinoza sneer at the university as reflecting “white male, middle class perspectives.” Yet it turns out that those “white male, middle class perspectives” — things like persistence, discipline, and focus — are just what is needed to succeed in the sciences. Many minority students who quit science and math majors do so because of the disconnect between the values of their majors and those of their ethnic peers. Huddling with your co-ethnics at the La Raza or Afro-Am weekly mixer is “believed to marginalize [minority] students from the customary values of their disciplines,” report the researchers. Even studying with another student hurts Hispanics’ science performance, perhaps because the two students reinforce rather than counter their peer group’s values.

The study whacks down ed-school nostrum after ed-school nostrum. Does negative feedback from a professor impair student achievement? In ed-school land, this self-esteem killer is a total no-no. Turns out that negative feedback did not “significantly impact students’ performance.” What about selecting students for college based on their academic performance in high school? Open-admissions wisdom holds that blacks and Hispanics’ high-school performance should have little bearing on where they end up in college. Not surprisingly, Cole and Espinoza found that Hispanics’ high school GPA strongly predicts their success in science majors. Naturally, the authors advise policy-makers to disregard this finding and continue admitting Hispanic students to colleges with little reference to their academic record.

Cole and Espinoza trot out other ed-school bromides about the “hostile learning environment” and “encounters with discrimination.” These hoary conceits remain as hilarious as ever. Nearly all the “underrepresented minorities” in these “hostile learning environments” have been admitted by administrators and faculty members, who, far from hostile, are desperate to get their minority numbers up no matter the sacrifice in standards.

Dismayingly, the Cole and Espinoza findings on the negative effect of “diversity” activities are not new. Previous studies have shown that ethnic clustering can jeopardize the academic performance of non-Asian minorities. And yet such findings have been well-buried and have had absolutely no effect on academia’s race and ethnicity obsession.

It may be that America can continue to rely on its Asian and Caucasian students to retain its scientific edge. A wiser policy, however, would be to shut down every last Cesar Chavez theme house and turn it into mandated study hall. Cracking the books is the only sure way anyone has ever figured out to improve student performance, no matter whether you are blue, purple, or green. The sooner we can get that message out, the safer America’s technological future will be.

Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor at City Journal and the co-author of The Immigration Solution.

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