California’s Department of Education has rejected a congressional request that it take part in a U.S. grant program that would allow local school districts to collect additional data on the state’s Asian-American and Pacific Islander students.
Congressional advocates of accepting the grant say the money would allow the state to identify learning disabilities among Asian-American and Pacific Islander students, whose learning problems are often masked by their reputation for being studious, intelligent and likely to excel.
California Department of Education Deputy Superintendent Keric Ashley cited two reasons for rejecting the proposed grant: It wasn’t big enough, and California districts already collect the information.
“Districts already have this Asian subgroup data in their local student information systems and can analyze it now,” he said.
The grant would have required the state to partner with a school district to collect the information.
Aides to Rep. Judy Chu, D-Monterey Park, the chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said the Fresno Unified School District and the Oakland Unified School District had expressed interest in sharing the grant, which could total as much as $400,000, with the state.
The majority of Cambodians, Hmong and Laotians do not attend college. About 38 percent of Cambodians, 40 percent of Hmong and 34 percent Laotians do not have high school diplomas.
Chu said she would continue to press state schools superintendent Tom Torlakson on the issue before the application deadline of Aug. 1.
Chu is one of 28 lawmakers who signed a May 20 letter to Torlakson suggesting the state apply for the grant. They include Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, who is co-chair of the Congressional Cambodia Caucus.
“It’s really important for understanding how, in the educational process, children are progressing,” he said.
The statistics for failure among certain groups of Asian-American and Pacific Islander students are staggering, which is why additional data collection is necessary, Chu said.
About 38 percent of Cambodians, 40 percent of Hmong and 34 percent of Laotians do not have high school diplomas, she said. The majority of Cambodians, Hmong and Laotians do not attend college and only 18 percent of native Hawaiians have bachelor’s degrees, Chu said.
“There’s a huge history of how Asian-Americans have been looked at as one monolithic group,” said Valerie Pang, a professor at San Diego State University’s School of Teacher Education. “And so now our children are very different and they have different educational needs, and we’re just trying to get them equal educational opportunities.”
It is tragic to those populations that have a need if they continue to be ignored because of the ‘model minority’ stereotype.
Valerie Pang, San Diego State
Pang began studying the achievements and struggles of Asian-American children in the late 1970s.
“It is tragic to those populations that have a need if they continue to be ignored because of the ‘model minority’ stereotype,” she said.
California is home to more than 5.7 million Asian-Americans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, about one-third of the U.S. Asian-American population of 17.7 million.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, one of the lawmakers who suggested the state accept the grant, said the state’s refusal to apply was shortsighted.
“Without this data, elected officials and policymakers lack the information we need to develop nuanced policies that are culturally and linguistically appropriate,” she said.
More importantly, without that data the California Department of Education cannot address any systemic problems, Pang said, that prevent Asian-Americans from achieving their full education potential.
Maggie Ybarra, 202-383-6048 @MolotovFlicker