Equity & Diversity

Teachers Expect More of Asian American Students. Is Bias the Reason?

By Ileana Najarro — October 18, 2022 4 min read
metamorworks/iStock/Getty
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Researchers have in the past examined whether teacher bias of Black and Latino students’ lower academic abilities manifests in less rigorous coursework for these students.

Now, a new study finds that bias seems to color teachers’ perceptions of Asian American students, too. Only in this case, the bias goes the other way: When it comes to Asian American students, teachers tend to hold higher academic expectations.

The new findings confirm what some researchers have known anecdotally for years, and supports longstanding concerns about a “model minority” stereotype.

Using nationally representative 2002 survey data of teachers from the National Center for Education Statistics, a wing of the U.S. Department of Education, Keitaro Okura, a sociology Ph.D. candidate at Yale University, found that teachers report more positive assessments of Asian American students’ attentiveness and performance in their classrooms compared to their white peers.

Those findings held up even when Okura controlled for factors such as students’ socioeconomic backgrounds and their academic achievement.

Teachers were also found to hold higher expectations for Asian American students’ future educational attainment, generally expecting they would seek out a college degree or more. And they were more likely to recommend Asian American students for Advanced Placement and honors courses.

“Even when I compare Asian students to otherwise academically comparable white students with similar test scores, similar amounts of academic effort, similar parents or backgrounds, similar parental expectations, attending the same schools, even when I account for all those potential plausible reasons, the advantage still persists,” Okura said.

Okura’s peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Sociology of Education, doesn’t provide causal evidence for why teachers have higher appraisals of Asian American students. But he and other researchers point to pervasive cultural stereotypes, including the model minority stereotype, that could lead teachers to assume Asian American students are a monolith of inherently smart, hard workers.

“A ‘good’ stereotype is still a racist stereotype that actually minimizes the actual experiences of those students and of the communities,” said Wayne Au, the interim dean of and professor in the School of Educational Studies at the University of Washington Bothell.

Stereotyping students creates a harmful educational environment for all

Okura used the 2002 Educational Longitudinal Study data for his study. Compared to newer NCES data sets, this collection had direct survey results from teachers that assessed their perceptions of students’ academic abilities, and how they would act on these perceptions, such as recommending students for advanced courses, he said.

He controlled for factors like the students’ higher standardized math scores and data showing that the students reported spending more time doing homework to avoid skewing the results. Even with those controls, the higher appraisals remained in place.

For instance, Okura found that math teachers assessed 42 percent of Asian American students in their class to be always attentive, compared to only 30 percent of white students, 17 percent of Black students, and 22 percent of Hispanic students.

Because the stereotype of Asian American students’ academic abilities still persists in the mainstream, Okura said there’s no particular reason to think that these findings have shifted since 2002.

The model minority stereotype, something Au in Washington state has studied, presents a possible explanation. It’s a construction of Asian Americans as a successful, monolithic group that overcame challenges such as racism. But the stereotype obscures the diversity of experience of Asian Americans and downplays key historical touchtones.

It wasn’t until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, for example, that Asian immigrants were more readily allowed into the United States, and even then those able to do so were more likely college educated with enough money to afford entering the country, Au said.

In the context of K-12 education, the stereotype hurts Asian American students and their peers.

Students can feel like they can’t live up to the stereotype. And because they are perceived to be a monolith, teachers could end up overlooking the unique life goals and pursuits students have especially in the areas of the arts and sports, Okura said. Their mental health needs may also be overlooked as a result of assuming that Asian American students aren’t stressed out by work.

And the racist stereotype pits Asian American students against their peers, with Black and Latino students measured against them as less successful minority groups. Some white peers resent Asian Americans, believing that they have an easier time getting high test scores and even go so far as to think these students are taking their spots at top universities, Au said.

Both Okura and Au recommend teachers take time to be more cognizant of their racialized assumptions and how they can manifest in the classroom, as well as learning more about the history of the racialization of Asian Americans.

“We need to really have critical self reflection and examine our own racism and biases around this kind of stuff because if we’re not aware of them, and if we’re not on top of them in a critical way … then that’s when we start operationalizing these things in real life in real concrete ways that have material impacts on students,” Au said.

Events

Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
Roundtable Webinar: Why We Created a Portrait of a Graduate
Hear from three K-12 leaders for insights into their school’s Portrait of a Graduate and learn how to create your own.
Content provided by Otus

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity States Have Restricted Teaching on Social Justice. Is Teacher Preparation Next?
A new Florida law will restrict what teacher-preparation programs can teach about racism and sexism.
5 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions from the media, March 7, 2023, at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions from the media, March 7, 2023, at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. DeSantis signed legislation earlier this month that would restrict teacher training and educator preparation institutes from teaching on social justice.
Phil Sears/AP
Equity & Diversity Opinion 70 Years After 'Brown,' Schools Are Still Separate and Unequal
The legal strategy to prioritize school integration has had some unforeseen consequences in the decades since.
4 min read
A hand holds a scale weighing integration against resource allocation in observation of the 70th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education case.
Noelle Rx for Education Week
Equity & Diversity How a DEI Rebrand Is Playing Out in K-12 Schools
School districts continue to advance DEI initiatives, though the focus is more on general inclusion and belonging for all.
9 min read
Ahenewa El-Amin speaks with students during her AP African American Studies class at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., on March 19, 2024.
Ahenewa El-Amin speaks with students during her AP African American Studies class at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., on March 19, 2024. State leaders in Kentucky are pushing the message of making sure all students feel they belong in school including by offering ethnic studies courses.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week
Equity & Diversity Opinion 70 Years of Abandonment: The Failed Promise of 'Brown v. Board'
If the nation is going to refuse integration, Black people must demand we revisit the separate but equal doctrine, writes Bettina L. Love.
4 min read
A Black student is isolated from their classmates by an aisle in the classroom.
Xia Gordon for Education Week