Asian students often face major barriers to a good quality of education. But the so-called “model minority myth,” which assumes Asian students always excel academically, can prevent them from getting the attention and support they need.
Asian American Pacific Islander students are a very diverse group — including Chinese, Laotian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Hmong, Guamanian, Chamorro, and Samoan Americans, to name a few — but they are all placed under the umbrella of “Asian,” making it difficult to see how different groups’ graduation rates and academic performance differ.
That’s why the U.S. Department of Education announced a program on Wednesday that seeks to encourage states to disaggregate data on Asian students. According to Education Secretary John King, the department is launching a $1 million grant competition to push states to collect and study the data on AAPI sub-populations and English language learners. The initiative was announced to coincide with AAPI Heritage Month.
In a video released Wednesday morning, King noted that the model minority myth “has prevented AAPI communities from fully benefiting from federal programs and resources that can support vulnerable and underserved people.”
“In reality, AAPIs are not a monolithic group and AAPIs face unique challenges, including getting an education,” he said. “Disaggregated data on student performance is critical for identifying and developing strategies for closing the educational opportunity gaps among different student groups.”
Betty Hung, the policy director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Los Angeles, applauded the department’s initiative.
“Policy solutions are grounded in accurate data. Given the diversity of AAPIs, ethnically disaggregated data are imperative to understand the real barriers and needs of AANHPIs in arenas like education,” Hung told ThinkProgress. “This new federal initiative is important and critical to ensure that the most vulnerable and underserved AAPI students also have equal educational opportunity.”
The model minority myth is exacerbated by the media’s tendency to report on immigration issues as if all immigrants to the U.S. are Latino. In fact, at least two-thirds of the Latinos living here were born in the United States, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, while Chinese immigrants make up 65.4 percent of the foreign-born population. Although many Asian immigrants do have economic privileges, many do not, and those economically disadvantaged Asian populations are often left out of the discussion of educational barriers and opportunity gaps. The possibility of detainment of a student’s parents due to their status as an undocumented immigrant creates an unstable environment for a student to learn effectively or complete college, for example.
The differences between subgroups when it comes to degree completion and other academic factors are substantial. A Campaign for College Opportunity report released last year found a 60 percent variation across all subgroups in the Asian American community in California. Although 70 percent of Indian adults have bachelor’s degree or higher, only 10 percent of Laotian adults have the same, for example. College completion rates were also much lower for Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander students compared to Asian American students.