Category Archives: Education

Contrary to WSJ story, Hispanics at the bottom in UC admissions

In a WSJ story called “Hispanics Gain at California Colleges,” Miriam Jordan reports that The University of California (UC) has admitted more Hispanics than whites for the first time.

The story reports that Latinos accounted for 28.8% of the 61,120 Californians admitted for this fall’s freshman class at the UC system’s nine undergraduate campuses, up from 27.6% last year and topping the 26.8% share of whites.

While that is definitely a noteworthy development, the story left something to be desired: As always, looking at the numerator without attention to the denominator can lead to erroneous conclusions.

Although the WSJ story recognizes that Hispanics represent California’s largest ethnic group and reports the ethnic composition of 15-19-year-olds in California, it doesn’t quite finish the thought or the calculation.

College AdmissionsSo, I decided to finish it myself! I created a table based on the info in the WSJ story, CA Dept of Finance data, and filled in some blanks for “other” ethnicities because the percentages didn’t add up to 100% otherwise.

All of a sudden, these numbers show in a very different light! Hispanics are at the bottom when you consider their percent representation compared to the other ethnicities.


UC Freshman

Ethnic Composition 15-19 year

% Representation























That left me wondering about a few questions, such as:

  1.  How has the % Representation changed over time?
  2.  What effect has California’s prohibition of consideration for race or ethnicity (Proposition 209, the 1996 ballot initiative that amended the state constitution) has had on % Representation?
  3.  How do these percentages look over time at the state’s most competitive schools, UC-Berkeley and UCLA?

Answers to these questions are important because things may be changing. A Washington Post blog said that California voters could decide this fall whether to allow state universities to consider the race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin of applicants when deciding admissions.

According to the blog, State Sen. Ed Hernandez, a Los Angeles Democrat and lead sponsor of the bill, said the percentage of minority students in the University of California and California State University systems has declined precipitously since Proposition 209 had passed.

Stay tuned!

Gangnam Style: Superstar Teachers and Suicidal Kids

The field of education is abuzz about “The $4 Million Teacher” piece in The Wall Street Journal. Sort of.

Amanda Ripley, in a WSJ piece plugging her upcoming book, states that South Korea’s students rank among the best in the world and its top teachers can make a fortune. She wonders whether the U.S. can learn from this “academic superpower” with a 93% high-school graduation rate. She credits tutoring services offering after-hours classes (“hagwons”) in every subject for a fee, where private tutors now outnumber schoolteachers for the success.

To me, it’s like asking to reform high school drama departments using Brad Pitt as an exemplar. Mr. Kim, the featured four million dollar man, is hardly a teacher. He is a smart and accomplished businessman capitalizing on the intense desire for rote learning in a broken public education system driven by desperate parents. This is precisely the kind of misguided hero worship (e.g. Google) I have railed against in earlier posts.

There are major contradictions in the WSJ article too. On one hand it says, “To create such trust, Mr. Kim suggests paying public-school teachers significantly more money according to their performance—as hagwons do.” On the other, it admits to a ruthless meritocracy for hagwons teachers in which “their pay is based on their performance, and most of them work long hours and earn less than public school teachers.”

To put it in the right context, let’s consider this. According to the CIA’s World Factbook, South Korea is a country that is slightly larger than Indiana, but has a population of nearly 49 million. Mother’s mean age at first birth is 29.6—nearly 5 years older than in the U.S. South Korea spends 5.1% of GDP on education expenses compared to 5.4% for the U.S.

And there is a darker side to this rat race. In all likelihood the competition is incredibly intense and the peer pressure absolutely brutal. “Eight out of 10 South Korean parents say they feel financial pressure from hagwon tuition costs. Still, most keep paying the fees, convinced that the more they pay, the more their children will learn,” says Ms. Ripley.

A Yahoo! Finance article by Naomi Rovnick says, “The country has the highest suicide rate in the OECD and the fourth-lowest fertility rate.” Ms. Rovnick also cites a BBC article which quotes child psychologist Kang-ee Hong: “From the beginning of childhood, the importance of money and achievement are emphasised by their parents, so they feel that unless you are successful in school grades and a good job, good prestigious college, you’re not successful, and the parents behave as if ‘you’re not my child’.”

Now, you are scaring me if the parents’ obsession with money and status is driving young people to suicide. I guess you have to be careful what you wish for. Besides, is this hagwons system making South Korean kids smarter? “That is a surprisingly hard question to answer,” says Ms. Ripley. “The most affluent kids can afford one-on-one tutoring with the most popular instructors, while others attend inferior hagwons with huge class sizes and less reliable instruction—or after-hours sessions offered free by their public schools.”

Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, both of whom I had the pleasure of meeting in April, have written that “The logic behind what works at top performers, why it works, and what will work elsewhere is barely unraveled, resulting in mindless imitation.”

Bottom Line: Blind copying of so-called best practices in vacuum without properly understanding the logic, culture, context, or implications often leads to disastrous consequences.