Penn Collaborative Study Shows How ‘Shadow Education’ Affects Academic Success of East Asian Americans

PHILADELPHIA – A new study co-authored by University of Pennsylvania sociologist Hyunjoon Park chalks up East Asian American students’ high SAT scores in part to their high level of participation in “shadow education” activities outside formal schools.

Park collaborated on the study with Soo-yong Byun, a researcher at Pennsylvania State University. The study is published in the January issue of the journal Sociology of Education.

The researchers used data from the Education Longitudinal Study to follow students who were high school sophomores in 2002.  They found that East Asian American students were most likely to take commercial SAT test preparation courses, possibly in a private learning center or “cram school,” and benefited more than any other racial or ethnic group.

In the paper titled “The Academic Success of East Asian American Youth: The Role of Shadow Education,” they write, “East Asian American students can take SAT coaching from not only traditional options such as Princeton Review and Kaplan but also (perhaps more) from a variety of SAT preparation institutions and cram schools in ethnic communities being run by East Asian immigrant entrepreneurs.”       

However, the author’s research showed that regardless of students’ race or ethnicity, receiving private SAT one-to-one tutoring didn’t affect their SAT scores.  

Considering the recent emphasis on standardized test scores and school accountability in American education, the study highlights the potentially growing relevance of shadow-education activities in shaping racial and ethnic inequalities in academic achievement.

Park emphasized the limitation of the data and method in addressing this issue. “We need to be careful not to make too strong a claim about the effectiveness of taking SAT commercial test prep service on SAT.”            

The abstract as well as a PDF version of the study is available at