June 29, 2008

How to Improve the Schools

From my new VDARE.com column:

Sailer’s Four-Point Plan for Improving Schools

By Steve Sailer

How can we improve America's K-12 schools? While we're waiting for Charles Murray to unveil his plan in his upcoming book, Real Education (due in August), here are some ideas I've had.

#1: educators need to stop falling for this year's Solution of the Century every year.

A huge amount of time is wasted reorganizing schools and retraining teachers for the latest fad, which, typically, was tried and discarded so long ago that nobody can remember anymore. (So don't take these ideas I'm tossing out all that seriously!)

Many teachers and administrators don't mind all the reorganizations because sitting around playing office politics versus each other is more fun than trying to get students to memorize the Times Tables.

The dogma of racial equality helps explain much of the educartel's susceptibility to the latest cult craze. Nobody has ever been able to get blacks and Hispanics to consistently perform as well as Asians and whites on a large scale. And, since the obvious implication of this reality is unthinkable (in many minds, quite literally), then it must be the schools' fault. What else could it be?

This logic is then used by cranks reformers to justify implementing their pet obsessions. If the schools are small, for instance, that could be the reason for the racial gap. So, make them bigger. If they are big, then make them smaller. Just do something!

For example, the insanely rich Gates Foundation has been pressuring public schools to deconstruct themselves into "small learning communities"—which was what Americans were trying to get away from back when they built big learning communities.

One way to gain a wiser perspective on K-12 fads is to think about how you chose which college to attend. For some reason, ideology tends to get in the way less in individuals’ college choices than in debates about public policy.

Did you pick a small college or a big college?

And did you make the right choice?

You may have a strong opinion on the subject of the optimal college size. But, whatever it is, you have to admit that other people disagree with you. After all, both Caltech (864 undergraduates) and University of Texas at Austin (36,878 undergraduates) seem to have done pretty well for themselves over the years. Different sizes come with objective advantages and disadvantages. For example, when I attended huge UCLA, there were professors on campus expert on practically every topic under the sun, but my parking lot was a half-hour walk away. Moreover, different people flourish best in different size schools.

Education fads are seldom motivated by statistical research, since it's hard to move the needle noticeably for a large number of schools. As we've known since the Coleman Report during LBJ's Great Society, the students are more important than the school.

Instead, education vogues are launched by statistical outliers.

Small schools are particularly likely to be outliers, because they are small. There are so many of them, and unusual things can happen more easily when fewer people are involved.

These flukes aren't necessarily false results. When the right principal, right teachers, and, especially, right students come together, good things can happen.

Not surprisingly, though, outliers are hard to replicate on a large scale.

Lots of new educational fads are launched by charismatic individuals who can personally make them work. Charisma can accomplish amazing things. Rasputin apparently could stop the Crown Prince of All the Russias' internal bleeding just by talking to him. Nevertheless, "Hire lots of Rasputins!" is not a reliable strategic plan for hemophilia clinics.


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

"The figures would be kept encoded in a national database (with all the usual privacy protections). The schools would be publicly graded on how much achievement it elicits from its students relative to their IQ"

sailer is trolling the libertarians....

Black Sea said...

Since we're dreaming . . .

Assume elementary school ends in the sixth grade, middle school in the eight, and high school in the tenth.

For students with IQs below 80, education to the sixth grade level (which might take 8 or 9 years)followed by some institutional support in moving into the workforce, such as simple apprenticeships, plus help with employment basics, safety in the workplace etc.

IQs 80 to 99: Eighth grade education, followed by a year or more of vocational training.

100 to 109: 10th grade education followed by the equivalent of a 2 year vo/tech or community college Associates degree.

110 - 119: Education to 10th grade level, followed by four year college degree.

120+ Education to 10th grade level, followed by two years of university prep and university education to the current Masters level.

The IQ figures aren't meant to be absolute cut off points, but rather general ranges. In other words, this system isn't going to force a hard-working student with an IQ of 97 out of school at the 8th grade level, but rather an 8th grade education followed by some vocational training is considered an acceptable outcome for that student.

As is perhaps obvious, I have no scientific basis for this plan.

Bruce Charlton said...

Re: "#4: we need to measure school achievement relative to the IQ of each student."

Absolutely! The big question is why this obviously necessary type of study has not been done already, given that IQ testing is a century old.

At any rate, so far as I have been able to discover, nobody has yet done a comparison of school systems while controlling for IQ.

But maybe this _was_ done way back in the 1920s or 1940s or something?

Does anyone know?

Anonymous said...

If the schools are small, for instance, that could be the reason for the racial gap. So, make them bigger. If they are big, then make them smaller. Just do something!

For example, the insanely rich Gates Foundation has been pressuring public schools to deconstruct themselves into "small learning communities"—which was what Americans were trying to get away from back when they built big learning communities.

Steve, the hidden agenda in big high schools is school busing.

If the high school has seats for thousands of students, this implies that some of the students live a long way from their high school, at lesst in lower density American municipalities.

I'm waiting for someone with a large audience to point out that crosstown school busing uses a lot of fuel, and thereby contributes to global warming.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Why the pervasive soft racism of low expectations? How about:





Anonymous said...

Anonymous, I can top that link easily:


This website is from the American Council on Education, which bills itself as "The Unifying Voice of Higher Education." The program shown on the page is "College is Possible," which is funny considering that ACE is responsible for designing the GED exam. The link you posted is from an ex-senator in one state, ACE claims to represent the entire college system.

KDeRosa said...

Steve, None of these four points is going to actually improve schools.

1. Doing away with faddish edu-nonsense isn't going to improve schools because the vast majority of the non-faddish nonsense doesn't work very well either.

2. There is no evidence that reducing school district size will improve anything. Poor/low-IQ kids fail at high rates even at the "best" of schools.

3. Improving the independence of the testing bodies won't help because there is no incentive to improve student performance in the first place. All your proposal does is make it harder to states to fudge the results.

4. Taking IQ into consideration when evaluating performance isn't going to improve anything it. All it is going to do is excuse the low performance of those with low-IQs.

Your proposed solutions don't get to the heart of the matter. How to educate children with the double whammy of low-IQs and parents with low-IQs (and the resultant environmental problems assocted therewith, such as low-language usage in the home) up to their innate potential.

Most jobs, especially trade jobs, require some degree of education, let's say solid 8th grade level skills, how do you propose improving education such that these students learn those needed skills?

Anonymous said...

With the growing problem of urban violenece,it seems we constantly hear the cry, "Improve the schools!!" as the answer.(BTW this reminds me of a film we saw in H.S. Latin class about Rome,Julius Ceasar or something.I just recall a bunch of guys in white sheets indolently laying around and every so often they'd yell,"Increase the Dole!!" All of Romes problems could be addressed by increasing the dole,supposedly.In reality...not,) So I wonder,if you have some vicious gang-banger,running the streets,fighting,getting high,making money,gettin' wit da honies etc,how would putting him in a not well ventilated room on a hard chair and forcing him to learn algebra cause him to stop doing what he is doing??

Anonymous said...

You didn't mention this, but wouldn't it be better to have schools just for kids in certain IQ ranges? Whatever range your kid fell into, he would go to a school for kids in that range.

The link between where you live and how good the schools are should be cut. It should be possible to send your kid to a "good" school, i.e. a school where the kids have a high average IQ, no matter where you live, provided of course that your kid tests in that range.

Anonymous said...

I was the previous anonymous commentator.

The reason kids of a certain IQ range should be pooled together is that you need a criticial mass of children at the same level of intelligence in order to be able to provide an appropriate cirriculum for them.

For instance, I went to a bad school and although there were smart kids in the school, there weren't enough to offer, say, all the AP classes that the good schools offered.

For instance, there was rule at my school which said that you needed at least 12 kids in order to have a class on a given subject. My friends and I tried to sign up 12 people for a AP European class. Although there were more than 12 people interested in taking such a class, we couldn't get all of them to take the class during the same class period, and so in the end didn't have the class.

On the other hand, if all the good students from all the bad schools in huge populous Gwinnett county (where I grew up) had been pooled together into a magnet school of some kind, then we wouldn't have had this kind of problem.

There seem to be huge numbers of stupid children. So I'm not sure it would be necessary to pool them all together in order to achieve critical mass in the same way that you would have to for smart students.

Anonymous said...

Yeah anon, I was with Steve right up until the part where the federal government makes a giant national database.

Anonymous said...

Nice to see Ken DeRosa in the comments.

Ken is arguably the "Steve Sailer" of education blogging, and his D-Ed Reckoning blog contains many valuable insights into what works (Direct Instruction!) and what doesn't (all the crap ideas of the educrats) in school reform.

Anonymous said...

Most jobs, especially trade jobs, require some degree of education, let's say solid 8th grade level skills, how do you propose improving education such that these students learn those needed skills?

More birth control in the inner cities.

Sriram said...

Outsource middle/high school education for the unteachable.. by this, I dont mean bringing teachers from other countries in.. but rather giving the students a 4 year specialized education in suitable nearby developing countries (barbados? guantanamo?).. if some chunk of medical care will eventually be outsourced this way, why not education to some place where the possibility of gangs, violence, guns and drugs is zero.
or failing that, in ships in international waters where US labor laws dont apply.


Anonymous said...

@ anonymous

You said: "You didn't mention this, but wouldn't it be better to have schools just for kids in certain IQ ranges? Whatever range your kid fell into, he would go to a school for kids in that range."

I think a similar system is in place in NYC. I believe all 8th graders take an achievement test (testing them on reading and math skills) and get first choice of where they'd like to attend high school. This is how schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science get all the smartest kids.

Brent Lane said...

I had a very enlightening conversation recently with my Aunt, who just retired after 34 years in elementary education in a small Southern town, in a relatively poor (despite major recent economic expansion) area.

Like her mother before her (still kicking at 96, BTW), who had spent a similar amount of time in the same school system, she had faced literally decades worth of the typical frustrations - most recently the "Educational Romanticism" that Charles Murray has described.

Without asking, my Aunt told me what finally drove her from the profession: NCLB. Yes, I know, big surprise there.

She said she has had her fill of 28-year-old Education majors with 2 or fewer years of classroom experience telling her that she didn't know how to teach, because her students with sub-90 IQs from economically disadvantaged backgrounds weren't meeting required proficiency objectives.

We are fortunate, because our community has a small number of what we call 'public private schools' which just happen to have that mysterious chemistry in which kids who want to learn are given every opportunity to do so. And our oldest child has been accepted into a magnet middle school (6th-8th) that is exactly as a previous commenter described - designed to attract only those students who are capable of succeeding in a high-IQ learning environment (which they managed to create by requiring a minimum B average plus good conduct marks throughout elementary school - funny how that tends to eliminate low-IQ kids without actual IQ testing taking place).

Anonymous said...

"What we need is to have each student tested for IQ by an independent agency when he or she starts at a school"

Or use a scholastic aptitude test that highly correlates with IQ.

Anonymous said...

Funny how private schools don't have these problems.

Let's get it straight: The purpose of the public school is not to educate, but to indoctrinate.

How many of decades of criminal neglect does it take to convince a typical parent to realize that the public school is not what it claims to be?

Apparently the answer is an infinite number.

The citizens get the government and the schools they deserve. Allowing your children to be educated by hostile outsiders is a choice.

Anonymous said...

How can we improve America's K-12 schools?

What a stupid question. Who is "we", Steve?

Is that supposed to mean we Americans? Like we're still a big family? Like we're still on the same page? Like there is still a dominant majority culture in America to steer the ship?

Would "we" mean the perpetually aggrieved blacks? The hostile and arrogant Cubans or Mexicans? The sulking mestizos? The elitist Persians, Jews and Overseas Chinese? The high caste Indians? The white working class? White upper class? The separatist Sharia-dreaming Muslims?

In what schools do you find all of the groups co-mingling and prospering? In what universe does that happen?

Who the hell is "we"? The vast majority of the groups in America want more separation from the perceived negative influences of the other groups.

In terms of coherency and the ability to get things done, the American government is heading towards equilibrium with the government of the United Nations. Do we need to wonder why?

Close the Department of Education. Raze the public schools. Lower the taxes. Educate children under local authority only.

Disempower globalism. Choose self-determination.

Anonymous said...

Allowing your children to be educated by hostile outsiders is a choice.

Not if you're too poor to go to private school. That's the only practical near-term choice.

Anonymous said...

How many of decades of criminal neglect does it take to convince a typical parent to realize that the public school is not what it claims to be?

A typical inner city parent may be also be a criminal. Daddy may be unable to confer with his children's teachers because Daddy is incarcerated.

It's that kind of world, don't you get it?

Anonymous said...

"At any rate, so far as I have been able to discover, nobody has yet done a comparison of school systems while controlling for IQ.

But maybe this _was_ done way back in the 1920s or 1940s or something?"

In the late 80s I took Italian lessons from an Italian from Bologna, perhaps in her 50s at the time. She was a Montesorri teacher and very versed in kids and what education could do for them.
She said in Italy they give kids tests around the age of 11 or 12, that determine their academic (or not) track from then on. She said for the most part it worked and people were generally satisfied with the system.
I doubt the results were just down to one test,and academic performance was considered. And of course none of the tests would have been blatently called an IQ test. But you can be sure that, like SATs, that is one thing they measured.

Anonymous said...

The old system of tracking worked pretty well. It was abandoned because it was politically unacceptable to have too many minority children on the slow track, but it worked. It is a great help to the teacher to have students of roughly the same ability and who all need to be taught the same things. In a tracking system, slow children are not left behind, but progress through the same curriculum at a slower pace. They may graduate knowing less than students on the "fast" track, but they are not made to feel inferior on a daily basis because they are progressing at the same rate as their classmates.

I would point out two things. The age at which a student should enter the first grade is not cut in stone; it is now decided by an arbitrary cut-off date. An extra year of maturity is probably worth 10 points in IQ at the elementary school level. A bright 6-year old and a slow 8-year old, probably have about the same raw score on an IQ test and should perform as well on most academic tests.

I suggest that all children when they are five years old be put in an ungraded classroom and allowed to leave and enter regular graded classes when they have demonstrated a readiness to do so--whether this takes one year or three years. Boys would typically spend a little longer in this ungraded classroom than girls, but everyone who entered the first year of regular classes would be roughly equal in ability and readiness to do the work expected of them. By the fifth grade, the younger students would again be out performing the older kids because they are the most intelligent and they would probably be subjected to some bullying by older students, so the best thing to do would be to shunt them into a "talented and gifted" middle school.

Students who were left in the regular program would be expected to achieve an eighth-grade education in 12 years--which is all most high schools are achieving presently--and failure would not be an allowable option. There would be mandatory summer school for those who failed the year-end test. Those in the extreme left-hand tail of the curve would be allowed to drop out of school by age 16.

I think this system might be a politically acceptable alternative to tracking and would achieve some of the same results. Students would be required to meet standards that were appropriate for their abilities.

Anonymous said...

By the fifth grade, the younger students would again be out performing the older kids because they are the most intelligent and they would probably be subjected to some bullying by older students, so the best thing to do would be to shunt them into a "talented and gifted" middle school.

In other words, by the fifth grade, Asian and white students would be separated from blacks and Mexicans.

I..e, neo-segregation. Suits me just fine.

How thick-witted you are, Anon.!

You seem to be completely impercipient to Steve's point, which his blog repeats over and over again, that different extended families have different mean IQ's.

Anonymous said...

Impercipient? What the Hell kind of High School did you go to?

rec1man said...

Whites avoid schools with asian students because they are too hard academically



The New White Flight

In Silicon Valley, two high schools with outstanding academic reputations are losing white students as Asian students move in. Why?


CUPERTINO, Calif. -- By most measures, Monta Vista High here and Lynbrook High, in nearby San Jose, are among the nation's top public high schools. Both boast stellar test scores, an array of advanced-placement classes and a track record of sending graduates from the affluent suburbs of Silicon Valley to prestigious colleges.

But locally, they're also known for something else: white flight. Over the past 10 years, the proportion of white students at Lynbrook has fallen by nearly half, to 25% of the student body. At Monta Vista, white students make up less than one-third of the population, down from 45% -- this in a town that's half white. Some white Cupertino parents are instead sending their children to private schools or moving them to other, whiter public schools. More commonly, young white families in Silicon Valley say they are avoiding Cupertino altogether.

White students are far outnumbered by Asians at Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, Calif.

Whites aren't quitting the schools because the schools are failing academically. Quite the contrary: Many white parents say they're leaving because the schools are too academically driven and too narrowly invested in subjects such as math and science at the expense of liberal arts and extracurriculars like sports and other personal interests.

The two schools, put another way that parents rarely articulate so bluntly, are too Asian.

Cathy Gatley, co-president of Monta Vista High School's parent-teacher association, recently dissuaded a family with a young child from moving to Cupertino because there are so few young white kids left in the public schools. "This may not sound good," she confides, "but their child may be the only Caucasian kid in the class." All of Ms. Gatley's four children have attended or are currently attending Monta Vista. One son, Andrew, 17 years old, took the high-school exit exam last summer and left the school to avoid the academic pressure. He is currently working in a pet-supply store. Ms. Gatley, who is white, says she probably wouldn't have moved to Cupertino if she had anticipated how much it would change.

In the 1960s, the term "white flight" emerged to describe the rapid exodus of whites from big cities into the suburbs, a process that often resulted in the economic degradation of the remaining community. Back then, the phenomenon was mostly believed to be sparked by the growth in the population of African-Americans, and to a lesser degree Hispanics, in some major cities.

But this modern incarnation is different. Across the country, Asian-Americans have by and large been successful and accepted into middle- and upper-class communities. Silicon Valley has kept Cupertino's economy stable, and the town is almost indistinguishable from many of the suburbs around it. The shrinking number of white students hasn't hurt the academic standards of Cupertino's schools -- in fact the opposite is true.

This time the effect is more subtle: Some Asians believe that the resulting lack of diversity creates an atmosphere that is too sheltering for their children, leaving then unprepared for life in a country that is only 4% Asian overall. Moreover, many Asians share some of their white counterpart's concerns. Both groups finger newer Asian immigrants for the schools' intense competitiveness.

Some whites fear that by avoiding schools with large Asian populations parents are short-changing their own children, giving them the idea that they can't compete with Asian kids. "My parents never let me think that because I'm Caucasian, I'm not going to succeed," says Jessie Hogin, a white Monta Vista graduate.

The white exodus clearly involves race-based presumptions, not all of which are positive. One example: Asian parents are too competitive. That sounds like racism to many of Cupertino's Asian residents, who resent the fact that their growing numbers and success are causing many white families to boycott the town altogether.

"It's a stereotype of Asian parents," says Pei-Pei Yow, a Hewlett-Packard Co. manager and Chinese-American community leader who sent two kids to Monta Vista. It's like other familiar biases, she says: "You can't say everybody from the South is a redneck."

Jane Doherty, a retirement-community administrator, chose to send her two boys elsewhere. When her family moved to Cupertino from Indiana over a decade ago, Ms. Doherty says her top priority was moving into a good public-school district. She paid no heed to a real-estate agent who told her of the town's burgeoning Asian population.

She says she began to reconsider after her elder son, Matthew, entered Kennedy, the middle school that feeds Monta Vista. As he played soccer, Ms. Doherty watched a line of cars across the street deposit Asian kids for after-school study. She also attended a Monta Vista parents' night and came away worrying about the school's focus on test scores and the big-name colleges its graduates attend.

"My sense is that at Monta Vista you're competing against the child beside you," she says. Ms. Doherty says she believes the issue stems more from recent immigrants than Asians as a whole. "Obviously, the concentration of Asian students is really high, and it does flavor the school," she says.

When Matthew, now a student at Notre Dame, finished middle school eight years ago, Ms. Doherty decided to send him to Bellarmine College Preparatory, a Jesuit school that she says has a culture that "values the whole child." It's also 55% white and 24% Asian. Her younger son, Kevin, followed suit.

Kevin Doherty, 17, says he's happy his mother made the switch. Many of his old friends at Kennedy aren't happy at Monta Vista, he says. "Kids at Bellarmine have a lot of pressure to do well, too, but they want to learn and do something they want to do."

While California has seen the most pronounced cases of suburban segregation, some of the developments in Cupertino are also starting to surface in other parts of the U.S. At Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville, Md., known flippantly to some locals as "Won Ton," roughly 35% of students are of Asian descent. People who don't know the school tend to make assumptions about its academics, says Principal Michael Doran. "Certain stereotypes come to mind -- 'those people are good at math,' " he says.

In Tenafly, N.J., a well-to-do bedroom community near New York, the local high school says it expects Asian students to make up about 36% of its total in the next five years, compared with 27% today. The district still attracts families of all backgrounds, but Asians are particularly intent that their kids work hard and excel, says Anat Eisenberg, a local Coldwell Banker real-estate agent. "Everybody is caught into this process of driving their kids." Lawrence Mayer, Tenafly High's vice principal, says he's never heard such concerns.

Perched on the western end of the Santa Clara valley, Cupertino was for many years a primarily rural area known for its many fruit orchards. The beginnings of the tech industry brought suburbanization, and Cupertino then became a very white, quintessentially middle-class town of mostly modest ranch homes, populated by engineers and their families. Apple Computer Inc. planted its headquarters there.

As the high-tech industry prospered, so did Cupertino. Today, the orchards are a memory, replaced by numerous shopping malls and subdivisions that are home to Silicon Valley's prosperous upper-middle class. While the architecture in Cupertino is largely the same as in neighboring communities, the town of about 50,000 people now boasts Indian restaurants, tutoring centers and Asian grocers. Parents say Cupertino's top schools have become more academically intense over the past 10 years.

Asian immigrants have surged into the town, granting it a reputation -- particularly among recent Chinese and South Asian immigrants -- as a Bay Area locale of choice. Cupertino is now 41% Asian, up from 24% in 1998.

Some students struggle in Cupertino's high schools who might not elsewhere. Monta Vista's Academic Performance Index, which compares the academic performance of California's schools, reached an all-time high of 924 out of 1,000 this year, making it one of the highest-scoring high schools in Northern California. Grades are so high that a 'B' average puts a student in the bottom third of a class.

"We have great students, which has a lot of upsides," says April Scott, Monta Vista's principal. "The downside is what the kids with a 3.0 GPA think of themselves."

Ms. Scott and her counterpart at Lynbrook know what's said about their schools being too competitive and dominated by Asians. "It's easy to buy into those kinds of comments because they're loaded and powerful," says Ms. Scott, who adds that they paint an inaccurate picture of Monta Vista. Ms. Scott says many athletic programs are thriving and points to the school's many extracurricular activities. She also points out that white students represented 20% of the school's 29 National Merit Semifinalists this year.

Judy Hogin, Jessie's mother and a Cupertino real-estate agent, believes the school was good for her daughter, who is now a freshman at the University of California at San Diego. "I know it's frustrating to some people who have moved away," says Ms. Hogin, who is white. Jessie, she says, "rose to the challenge."

On a recent autumn day at Lynbrook, crowds of students spilled out of classrooms for midmorning break. Against a sea of Asian faces, the few white students were easy to pick out. One boy sat on a wall, his lighter hair and skin making him stand out from dozens of others around him. In another corner, four white male students lounged at a picnic table.

At Cupertino's top schools, administrators, parents and students say white students end up in the stereotyped role often applied to other minority groups: the underachievers. In one 9th-grade algebra class, Lynbrook's lowest-level math class, the students are an eclectic mix of whites, Asians and other racial and ethnic groups.

"Take a good look," whispered Steve Rowley, superintendent of the Fremont Union High School District, which covers the city of Cupertino as well as portions of other neighboring cities. "This doesn't look like the other classes we're going to."

On the second floor, in advanced-placement chemistry, only a couple of the 32 students are white and the rest are Asian. Some white parents, and even some students, say they suspect teachers don't take white kids as seriously as Asians.

"Many of my Asian friends were convinced that if you were Asian, you had to confirm you were smart. If you were white, you had to prove it," says Arar Han, a Monta Vista graduate who recently co-edited "Asian American X," a book of coming-of-age essays by young Asian-Americans.

Ms. Gatley, the Monta Vista PTA president, is more blunt: "White kids are thought of as the dumb kids," she says.

Cupertino's administrators and faculty, the majority of whom are white, adamantly say there's no discrimination against whites. The administrators say students of all races get along well. In fact, there's little evidence of any overt racial tension between students or between their parents.

Mr. Rowley, the school superintendent, however, concedes that a perception exists that's sometimes called "the white-boy syndrome." He describes it as: "Kids who are white feel themselves a distinct minority against a majority culture."

Mr. Rowley, who is white, enrolled his only son, Eddie, at Lynbrook. When Eddie started freshman geometry, the boy was frustrated to learn that many of the Asian students in his class had already taken the course in summer school, Mr. Rowley recalls. That gave them a big leg up.

To many of Cupertino's Asians, some of the assumptions made by white parents -- that Asians are excessively competitive and single-minded -- play into stereotypes. Top schools in nearby, whiter Palo Alto, which also have very high test scores, also feature heavy course loads, long hours of homework and overly stressed students, says Denise Pope, director of Stressed Out Students, a Stanford University program that has worked with schools in both Palo Alto and Cupertino. But whites don't seem to be avoiding those institutions, or making the same negative generalizations, Asian families note, suggesting that it's not academic competition that makes white parents uncomfortable but academic competition with Asian-Americans.

Some of Cupertino's Asian residents say they don't blame white families for leaving. After all, many of the town's Asians are fretting about the same issues. While acknowledging that the term Asian embraces a wide diversity of countries, cultures and languages, they say there's some truth to the criticisms levied against new immigrant parents, particularly those from countries such as China and India, who often put a lot of academic pressure on their children.

Some parents and students say these various forces are creating an unhealthy cultural isolation in the schools. Monta Vista graduate Mark Seto says he wouldn't send his kids to his alma mater. "It was a sheltered little world that didn't bear a whole lot of resemblance to what the rest of the country is like," says Mr. Seto, a Chinese-American who recently graduated from Yale University. As a result, he says, "college wasn't an academic adjustment. It was a cultural adjustment."

Hung Wei, a Chinese-American living in Cupertino, has become an active campaigner in the community, encouraging Asian parents to be more aware of their children's emotional development. Ms. Wei, who is co-president of Monta Vista's PTA with Ms. Gatley, says her activism stems from the suicide of her daughter, Diana. Ms. Wei says life in Cupertino and at Monta Vista didn't prepare the young woman for life at New York University. Diana moved there in 2004 and jumped to her death from a Manhattan building two months later.

"We emphasize academics so much and protect our kids, I feel there's something lacking in our education," Ms. Wei says.

Cupertino schools are trying to address some of these issues. Monta Vista recently completed a series of seminars focused on such issues as helping parents communicate better with their kids, and Lynbrook last year revised its homework guidelines with the goal of eliminating excessive and unproductive assignments.

The moves haven't stemmed the flow of whites out of the schools. Four years ago, Lynn Rosener, a software consultant, transferred her elder son from Monta Vista to Homestead High, a Cupertino school with slightly lower test scores. At the new school, the white student body is declining at a slower rate than at Monta Vista and currently stands at 52% of the total. Friday-night football is a tradition, with big half-time shows and usually 1,000 people packing the stands. The school offers boys' volleyball, a sport at which Ms. Rosener's son was particularly talented. Monta Vista doesn't.

"It does help to have a lower Asian population," says Homestead PTA President Mary Anne Norling. "I don't think our parents are as uptight as if my kids went to Monta Vista."

Write to Suein Hwang at suein.hwang@wsj.com