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Every Coin Has Two Sides

Uncovering the Model Minority Myth

What group comes to mind when you read the following: top of the class, high test scores, and hard working?

If you guessed Asian Americans, you are seeing the power of the “model minority” stereotype. It is true that Asian Americans, examined statistically as a single group, have in many ways done extraordinarily well. Among the major racial and ethnic minority groups in the U.S., Asian Americans have the highest rate of college degree attainment, the highest number of advanced degrees, and the highest percentage of workers in high-skill occupations.

Because of this success, some have held Asian Americans out as the defining example of what it means to achieve the American dream, declaring Asian Americans as the “model minority.”

Yet, if we take a closer look at the numbers, they reveal a more complex side to this remarkable story. Without question, the model minority myth has camouflaged the unique history and socioeconomic characteristics of widely-differing Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. In particular, it has hidden the widespread challenges facing Southeast Asian and Pacific Islanders in the public education system.

This month we explore the dropout crisis through the eyes of three sisters who attend McKinley High School in Hawaii,  which has the highest percentage of Asian Pacific Islanders in the country. NEA members in Hawaii point to cultural and language barriers in the classroom as well as prejudice and unrealistic expectations as contributors to the academic hurdles faced by Asian Pacific Islander students and the high school’s 15 percent dropout rate.

The myth that all Asian Americans are high-achievers can be detrimental because it fails to address those students who need help, support, and focused resources to succeed. Team NEA, to continue to allow these challenges to go unnoticed and unaddressed would be irresponsible and perilous to a community that is seeking our help.

In response, we are urging a number of initiatives to improve API achievement. They include expanding the research on APIs by disaggregating the data and experiences of each ethnicity. This will lead to the creation of support services and instruction where they are most needed.

NEA also supports federal policies to ensure schools have more capacity to serve English-language learners and to ensure that there is more outreach to API parents, including bilingual support.

Providing every child, regardless of race, income or ethnicity, with a quality education is a basic right that our public schools and policymakers must deliver. To make this happen, we must provide all students with the tools to fulfill their limitless potential.

NEA President Reg Weaver

Photo: Dima Gavrysh

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