Guest blog post by Jaclyn Zubrzycki
Stereotypes about Asians in America have been in the news recently, with NBA player Jeremy Lin’s star turns on the court causing an uproar: Aren’t Asians supposed to be good at school, not sports?
A new report called “We Can’t Even Ask For Help” looks to debunk the myth of the “model minority,” which, the authors say, can lead to Asian-heritage students not getting the help they need. The report, put out by the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families and Pumphouse Projects, highlights the diversity of Asian–American and Pacific–American students in New York City schools. The upshot is that many of these students face challenges— with immigration status, poverty, and English-language skills— that aren’t always effectively addressed by schools. I wrote a longer article for Education Week that has more about the report and the school district’s response.
The report brings up some interesting data issues: Since many Asian students in New York schools are among a few members of their population in the school, Family Educational Rights Privacy Act regulations mean their scores aren’t reported out. As a result, said Vanessa Leung, the coalition’s deputy director, the many students who were widely dispersed throughout the system were somewhat invisible: “We are concerned. We’re not sure how they’re doing, not even academically but socially.” The report wants the district to find a way to report on these students’ performance.
This jogged my memory. I taught at a charter school in Washington, D.C., where there were two Vietnamese students in a population that was otherwise about half Hispanic, half Black, and almost entirely low–income. They were, as the report argues, in the same school environment as their peers from other minority groups. But their scores wouldn’t have been reported out, and researchers seeking to learn about how they were faring compared to other Asian-heritage students in the city would have struggled to get a clear picture.
Beyond the data, the report also features students discussing the many ways in which their lives don’t line up with the “model minority” image. Leung said that while New York clearly has a particularly large and diverse immigrant population (1 million Asian-heritage people now live in New York— that’s more than the entire population of many cities), immigrant communities around the country face similar challenges. In an interview, she described a growing community of Korean immigrants near a new automobile plant in Auburn, Ala., where the school system was struggling to serve a brand new group of students. “The challenges are definitely not unique to New York,” she said.
If you’re looking for some of the less-often-told stories about New York’s immigrants, you can find some in this interview with Brooke Hauser, the author of The New Kids, a book about the Internationals Network for Public Schools. One Tibetan boy in the school profiled in the book made part of his journey to the U.S. in a tiny suitcase. Education Week reporter Lesli Maxwell also writes regularly about issues facing English-language learners (and, by extension, documented and undocumented immigrants) over on Learning the Language.
The report raises an interesting question for educators: How do you combat the negative effects of a stereotype that might be seen as being a GOOD thing (ie., Asians are smart)?
A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.