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Report: Model minority myth overshadows AAPI needs

By Amanda Bang, AsAmNews Intern

AAPI families in the New York City school system all have their own needs, but their voice is not being heard, a report from Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF) says.

Naomi Chou and Kaveri Sengupta, researchers from CACF that worked on the report, said a disparity existed between what AAPI families wanted and the policies that the Department of Education (DOE) in New York City created. They said a lot of the disparity came from the model minority myth.

“The model minority myth kind of obscures the real challenges many of our students face in accessing a quality education,” said Sengupta. “Because of the idea that you know AAPI students are naturally hardworking… it makes it seem like for students that do struggle or do find that difficult, it invisibilizes them and may seem like it’s their fault that they’re struggling.”

Sengupta also said policies from the Department of Education often only affected a very small population of the community, mostly based on the model minority myth and the stereotypes that came with AAPI families. She referred to the recent announcement about the addition of seats in the gifted and talented program. 

“What the model minority myth does make it convenient for institutions like the DOE to say you want these supposedly meritocratic policies, because you are Asian, because that tracks with model minority stereotypes,” Chou said. “Whereas the fact is that the bulk of marginalized API students in New York City face challenges due to not speaking English, being low income, being immigrants, and that is in fact because they are Asian.” 

The CACF called for policies that come closer to meeting the needs of AAPI families. They developed this report, AAPI Parent Guided Conversations on Education, which aimed to find out what AAPI parents thought about the New York City school system.

Many parents told the researchers they want better communication with the school with fewer language barriers. They also prioritize a school that understands their culture.

“I think one concern from a lot of parents that we’ve heard, and this is very consistent, is we are really looking for a school environment that has staff that can speak our language, and you know understand where we’re coming from culturally,” Sengupta said.

Caihong Huang was one of many parents who prioritized a school that understands the Asian community when looking for schools for two of her daughters.

“I was looking for some someplace that’s more culturally responsive, understanding my culture and understanding my child’s needs,” she said through a translator. “I wanted to choose a school that helps incorporate and really for my child to be able to see other people like her in the school system.”

As a recent immigrant, Huang also looked for a school that had the resources to help with translation and communication.

Mary Cheng, the director of Childhood Development Services at the Chinese-American Planning Council, said that the diversity of the school and school faculty depended on the location of these schools. Cheng said she has seen parents that would rather travel more for a school that suits their needs.

“They might live close to a good school or even a school closer to them, but if it doesn’t look like their own community, they don’t still feel comfortable,” she said. “They get very frustrated and they’re like no, I rather just travel all the way to Chinatown so I can actually get information on my child’s progress.”

Cheng also said that many parents still struggle with language barriers and trying to understand the system. She said many parents need more resources than a number for the DOE welcome center.

“It’s not just enough for like a parent coordinator to help support because schools are so big, there just isn’t enough for them to have like that outreach to somebody that can answer to them,” Cheng said. “A lot of times we just need help just figuring out the system. But I don’t think there’s enough people in the school to help support that right now. And because there’s a language barrier, not every school has that accessibility to them to get the answers the way that they need.”

Cheng also criticized the disadvantage that AAPI parents could have with processes like the enrollment system. She said the recent summer rising program caused a lot of confusion because of how late DOE released the dates of the process.

“We knew that we were going to do enrollment through the DOE but by the time we knew the date, there was only a week before and then we had to send out information to the families and then we had to let them know it’s gonna be first come first serve, we can’t help support you on your application,” Cheng said. “We literally got trained, maybe two or three days before the release of it. So that’s problematic, we can’t help support families and give them equitable chance in taking the seats if they don’t know what to do.”

Cheng shared that even she could not sign her son up for the summer rising programs from these complications even though she was part of the system.

Another concern a parent brought up was the lack of pay parity in the school systems in New York City. Huang said that there is a significant difference, especially in the early childhood sector.

“One thing DOE can support besides communication is really allowing more support for budgets and money to the schools themselves,”Huang said through a translator.

Huang said some of these support staff only make $16 an hour.

“That’s not enough to make a living wage out of,” Huang said. “If they’re busy thinking about that, they’re really not able to really think about the well being of my child as 100% as they need.”

From the report, Sengupta proposes a few suggestions to start moving in a direction where all of this variety of AAPI family’s voices are heard. She said the DOE needs a better understanding of the AAPI community, especially with desegregation of data.

“I think the first step to this is being aware that there is a diversity, I actually think that there is not there’s not necessarily a total understanding of like what that means,” Sengupta said. “They need to collect granular data on ethnic groups, because, as we know, AAPI is a super-wide umbrella, covers a lot and just hides a lot of disparity within.”

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