Published Online: November 19, 1997

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Bilingual and Immigrant Education

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While many Asian-American students excel academically, too many educators overlook the needs of those who are struggling in school, says a new study.

The homogeneous image of Asian-American students as a "model minority" has done a disservice to students at risk of academic failure because of the linguistic, cultural, and social obstacles they face, the report found.

And educators often do not take into account the vast socioeconomic and cultural diversity within the Asian and Pacific American community, which includes members of 34 ethnic groups who speak more than 300 languages and dialects.

Issued by the New York City-based Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, the report calls for increasing bilingual education resources for Asian and Pacific American children, for filling the gaps in research on those students' language-development needs, and for stepping up efforts to recruit Asian-American teachers, administrators, and counselors.

"When developing programs for kids at risk, people need to think about Asian kids, too," said Marjorie Fujiki, the group's executive director.

Such attention is crucial, Ms. Fujiki said, given that not just the numbers, but also the needs are growing.

From 1960 to 1990, the number of Asian-American school-age children nationwide grew sixfold, to nearly 1.3 million. By 2000, roughly 75 percent of Asian-American school-age children will be immigrants or the children of immigrants.

And the more recent waves of Asian immigrants--such as those from Southeast Asia--tend to be poor and poorly educated.

For example, some 64 percent of Hmong live in poverty in the United States, but only 14 percent of Koreans do.

Schools struggling to educate new populations of Asian-American students with limited English skills often do not have the resources to provide bilingual education. And the report asserts that some students are placed in bilingual classes, but in the wrong language group.

In California, where Asian and Pacific Americans make up 11 percent of the school enrollment, the scarcity of bilingual teachers is clear: While the ratio is one teacher for every 81 Spanish-speaking students, for Vietnamese speakers it jumps to one for 662 students.

"An Invisible Crisis: The Educational Needs of Asian Pacific American Youth" is free from Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, (212) 260-3999.

--LYNN SCHNAIBERG

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