New America Media, News Report/, Vivian Po, Video by Odette Keeley and Min Lee,
A new report from the think tank Education Trust-West reveals alarming disparities in academic achievement among different Asian ethnic groups in California.
The report, “Overlooked and Underserved,” which is to be published next month, reveals that while Chinese, Japanese, Korean, South Asian and Vietnamese students often scored better than their white classmates, the public school system appeared to be failing Cambodian, Laotian and Pacific Islander students, who fell farther behind the longer they were in school.
Filipino students’ performance, meanwhile, tracked closely to whites.
Ling-Chi Wang, professor emeritus in ethnic studies at UC Berkeley, said Ed Trust’s findings show that the mainstream media image of Asians as the “model minority” image is incorrect.
Wang spoke at a news briefing organized by New America Media. The briefing was part of a half-day training on education data research for over a dozen ethnic reporters from the Chinese, Vietnamese, Latino, African American, and Russian media.
Wang said that since the term “model minority” was invented by the mainstream society in the late 1960s, the needs of certain Asian groups have been overlooked and under-funded.
“It became an excuse for the government not to look closer and not to provide more help,” said Wang.
The report found that on the whole 72 percent of Asian students in eighth grade were testing at grade level in English in 2009, outperforming their white peers by 6 percent.
Chinese students scored highest, with 81 percent achieving grade level proficiency. Only 46 percent of Cambodian and 40 percent of Laotian students scored well, however.
And the older the students got, the more the gap widened.
According to the report, only 6 percent of Laotian and 11 percent of Cambodian students reach college-ready level English proficiency by high school graduation, while 41 percent of Chinese and 38 percent of Korean students reached that same level.
The Ed Trust report argues that Chinese, Japanese, and Korean students score better than their Southeast Asian counterparts because they tend to be better off financially.
“Students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds fare far worse than their socio-economically advantaged peers,” the report reads, “and certain subgrounds of Asian and Pacific Islander students .. have some of the highest poverty rates in the state.”
“It is truly horrifying,” said Arun Ramanathan, executive director of Education Trust-West, who presented the data at the briefing.
He noted that the population of college-age African-American student groups increased by 41 percent, but their enrollments in UC and CSU saw only a slight increased by 29 percent.
Oakland Unified School District Board Member Jumoke Hinton Hodge, another panelist, was not surprised by the numbers and patterns presented.
She said the Ed Trust report points toward historical problems that need to be solved.
“When faced with historical problems, is there hope?” Hodge said. “We have to ask ourselves where the changes are coming from.”
Eduardo Mosqueda, assistant professor of education at UC Santa Cruz, believes even in times of lean state budgets, California can do more by spending its existing education dollars more effectively.
For example, he said, the state should move scarce dollars from standardized test to programs that really benefit students.
“Instead of testing them every year and telling us the same thing,” Mosqueda said, “why don’t we go with what other states are doing and test them when the data become usable.”
The report offers specific recommendations for improving Latino and African-American students’ achievement, which includes assigning effective teachers to the highest need students, expanding early learning opportunities, ensuring high quality curriculum and instruction, and increasing access to college ready coursework.