Tag Archives: Center for American Progress

We Are Not a “Model Minority”: The Need for Better Education Data About AAPIs

This post is by Bellwether intern Truc Vo. Read more about Truc here.

Growing up, I went to a relatively diverse high school, with over 60% of the student population being students of color and a third of those being Asian American or Pacific Islander (AAPI). Although there was a large Asian-American population, most of them were middle- to upper-middle class and either South or East Asian — there was no Pacific Islander representation.

For most of my K-12 education, I fully subscribed to the myth of AAPIs as a “model minority,” assuming we were all high-achieving in both school and work and financially stable. There seemed to be an unspoken rule amongst my Asian friends to take the highest possible class, whether AP or honors, for each subject, and if you didn’t do that, people looked down on you. In this environment, I lumped together all AAPIs and perceived over 30 different ethnic groups as homogenous.

Graphic from report done by Center for American Progress on the educational attainment by Asian national subgroups

via Center for American Progress

When looking at AAPIs as a whole, they do in fact academically outperform whites. On average, they have higher test scores and grades, are more likely to graduate high school and college, and get into more selective schools compared to White Americans and other racial groups. However, some AAPI subgroups are not performing well in school and need more resources in order to succeed.

I didn’t realize that there are ethnic groups under the AAPI umbrella who are not graduating college, let alone high school, and that many of these ethnicities are also much more likely to be impoverished than AAPIs as a whole (according to the U.S. Census). I didn’t realize that as a Vietnamese American with two college-educated parents, one with an advanced degree, I am the exception not the rule. According to Pew Research, in 2015, only 25% of foreign-born Vietnamese Americans over the age of 25 had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

There are over 30 different ethnic groups that fall under the label of Asian American and Pacific Islander, and the “model minority” myth fails to take into account the ethnic and class differences amongst AAPIs. Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders, on average, attain less education compared to East Asians. The Center for American Progress reports that while 49 percent of Asian Americans in 2012 had a bachelor’s degree or higher, fewer than 15% of Hmong, Cambodians, and Laotians and only 19% on average of Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders had a bachelor’s degree or higher. Furthermore, over 30% of Hmong, Cambodian, and Laotian adults over 25 do not have a high school diploma or equivalent. 

Graphic from report done by Center for American Progress on the educational attainment by Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander subgroups

via Center for American Progress

In addition to discrepancies in education attainment, there is also a wide distribution of wealth among AAPIs. Although AAPIs, on average, had a higher median household income in 2015 than the nation’s median income ($73,060 versus $53,600), this masks that Bangladeshi Americans’ median household income was $49,800, Nepalese Americans’ median household income was $43,500, and Burmese Americans’ median household income was $36,000. Pacific Islanders are more likely to live in poverty compared to Asian Americans, with 20.4% of Pacific Islanders in 2012 living in poverty compared to 12.8% of Asian Americans.

Given the statistics, it is clear we need better data disaggregation so that leaders and educators can understand the different experiences of AAPI ethnic groups and identify which groups may need more support. In order for policymakers and educators to change the status quo, they need data-backed evidence of the existing achievement and income gaps.

Several years ago, the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) launched a national campaign called All Students Count to push government agencies at all levels to collect and report disaggregated AAPI data. More recent efforts have centered on state and local governments. For example, California, Minnesota, and Washington all recently passed data disaggregation bills and Massachusetts and New York are currently trying to pass similar ones.

As the fastest growing racial group in America, AAPIs deserve more targeted interventions, especially given that the income gap between AAPI ethnic groups continues to grow. In fact, in 2016, AAPIs had the largest income inequality out of all racial groups. This open letter from educators and leaders offers more information on data disaggregation efforts and addresses common misconceptions. I strongly believe that data disaggregation will lead to more educational equity amongst all AAPIs.

Civics Education Isn’t About Content or Activism — It’s Both.

Today is Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, observed each year to commemorate the signing of the Constitution on September 17, 1787 and “recognize all who, by coming of age or by naturalization, have become citizens,” according to the Library of Congress. It makes for a good occasion to reflect on the state of civics education in America, a topic that has received renewed focus since the 2016 presidential election.

One question that is often debated in this conversation is whether civics education should focus on teaching content and critical thinking skills, or encouraging civic engagement and activism. This presents a false choice, as schools should be responsible for ensuring that students are both adequately informed and sufficiently engaged — not one or the other.

One side of this debate contends that civics education should first and foremost provide students with a basic understanding of how the American political system works and teach them how to think about political issues. Under this approach, students should develop a well-informed understanding of all sides of an issue, including the underlying facts and proposed solutions, only venturing into political activism once they have mastered the necessary knowledge and skills.

This approach is well intended: it is important to cultivate a citizenry capable of robust debate that honestly grapples with the benefits and tradeoffs associated with each issue. And improvement is certainly needed, based on students’ poor performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) civics assessment, which measures “the civics knowledge, skills, and dispositions that are critical to the responsibilities of citizenship in America’s constitutional democracy.” According to the most recent civics assessment, last administered in 2014, only 23 percent of eighth grade students scored at or above the proficient level. In 2010, when NAEP last tested high school seniors in civics, only 24 percent scored at or above the proficient level.

However, neither of these results has changed significantly since 1998, and it’s not as if older voters — who vote at much higher rates than younger voters — are necessarily bastions of civic knowledge. For example, according to the most recent results from the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s annual civics survey, released last week, fewer than one third of Americans can correctly name all three branches of government, and many also lack important knowledge about how each branch functions.

Source: Annenberg Public Policy Center

Additionally, civic engagement, particularly voting, is not just about making a well-reasoned choice between two or more options. It’s also a way of demonstrating political power. When young people aren’t engaged, they are leaving their figurative voice out of the political conversation, meaning the issues they care about may receive less attention, and policies that affect young people may be enacted without their input. Our education system should have a strong interest in empowering young people and starting them on a path of self-advocacy.

Source: United States Elections Project

While the goal of civics education should be to both adequately inform students and get them engaged in the political process, it’s clear that we aren’t doing a good enough job on either front. This isn’t surprising when you consider how little time is spent on civics education. Based on a recent analysis from the Center for American Progress, 40 states require coursework in U.S. government or civics. While nine states require one year of such coursework, 31 only require a half-year, and 10 states have no requirement at all.

If we want to ensure that the next generation of citizens is sufficiently prepared for civic life, we need to commit the necessary time and resources — certainly more than one semester. We should view this Constitution Day and Citizenship Day as an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the civic mission of schools.

Let’s Take a Closer Look at “Child Care Deserts”

A new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) looks at “Child Care Deserts,” which CAP defines as communities with no licensed child care centers, or where the number of children under age five dramatically exceeds licensed child care center capacity. Looking acrossChildCareDeserts the eight states for which CAP was able to acquire data, the analysis finds that nearly half of children in these states live in child care deserts. Quality child care settings are even more scarce.

The analysis also illustrates significant geographic variation in how child care is distributed. Rural children are particularly likely to live in child care deserts: nearly 55 percent of rural children live in such communities, as opposed to about one-third of both urban and suburban kids. The percentage of children living in child care deserts varies across states: from less than one-third in Maryland, to roughly two-thirds of all children under five in Ohio, Minnesota, and Illinois. Communities with high or low rates of poverty tend to have more childcare access, while those in the middle are more likely to be child care deserts. This suggests that public subsidies and publicly funded programs have been successful in improving access to childcare in communities with more poor families. Urban and higher-poverty communities also tended to have higher quality child care options.

It’s an interesting and important analysis, and CAP deserves credit for casting light on issues of child care supply, in addition to cost, and bringing an empirical light to these conversations. A few caveats are worth noting, however:

  • Demand for child care is a complicated thing. CAP’s analysis uses the number of children in a community under age 5 as a proxy for demand for child care, but it’s an imperfect proxy. Research from the census bureau indicates that more than half of families with children under age 5 do not pay for child care, including some families in which the mother works full time. In some communities, there may limited demand for child care because many families prefer to stay home with their children, use informal and family care arrangements, or because there are few attractive work opportunities for parents. Obviously, there’s a bit of a chicken and egg question here: Child care supply may be low in some communities because demand is also limited, but it’s also possible that more parents would work and demand childcare if more options were available. To really solve this problem at a local level, much better analysis on demand is required.
  • Growing capacity requires targeted investments in supply. CAP highlights their proposal for a High-Quality Child Care Tax Credit as a strategy to increase supply of quality child care, by providing parents with more resources to pay for care. But building the supply of quality care in communities with few existing options will likely require more direct supply-side strategies to incentivize new providers to open or existing quality operators to expand to these communities (as I wrote about in the first chapter of our recent release), and to help cover start-up costs. The investments that I’ve proposed to build the supply of quality schools could also help to grow the supply of quality child care in underserved communities.
  • Child care “swamps” are also a problem. CAP’s analysis focuses on communities with a lack of child care supply. This is clearly an issue in some rural communities. And if you live in a high-cost urban area like Washington, D.C., where families often face long wait lists for child care slots, it can be easy to think child care shortages are a national problem. But oversupply of child care in some communities is equally problematic. Many states’ regulatory policies create few barriers to entry into the market. This can lead to more seats than children who need them, resulting in under-enrollment that makes it hard for providers to be economically viable or to have the resources they need to invest in quality. This is exacerbated when operators open child care centers without fully assessing market need or developing strong business models. Improving access to quality child care in these communities may actually require increasing barriers to entry, reducing the number of child care slots, and developing concerted strategies to direct or match families with higher quality options.

Grade-Span Accountability Is A Bad Idea: Just Ask CAP and the AFT

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Center for American Progress (CAP) have released a joint set of principles for ESEA reauthorization. They call for preserving statewide annual testing requirements for students, but they would base school-level accountability only on tests taken once per grade span—once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high school.

Like the Education Trust, we think this is a bad idea. Grade-span accountability solves none of the problems of our current system while making other problems worse. Namely:

  1. It doesn’t address concerns about over-testing. Students could be taking the same number of tests as they have in the past, particularly if districts don’t reduce the number of duplicative and unnecessary local tests. CAP has rightly cited these local tests as the root of the problem, but this proposal would not reduce the number of federally mandated tests.
  2. Rather than decreasing the stakes on standardized tests, the AFT/CAP proposal would amplify them. Under their plan, a 5th grader would no longer be taking tests that reflect just on the 5th grade. His or her results would be the basis on which their entire school was judged. How, exactly, does this help “de-link [academic standards] from high-stakes tests”, as AFT President Randi Weingarten suggested a year ago?
  3. It makes it even harder to focus on specific subgroups. NCLB held schools accountable for every subgroup that had a sufficient number of students (called the minimum “n-size”). But under the CAP/ AFT proposal, a school’s 5th grade African-American, ELL, or SWD groups could be too small to meet the minimum n-size and the whole school’s disadvantaged students could go uncounted. This may sound wonky and technical, but it becomes a pretty huge issue even at relatively small n-sizes (such as 10 or 20 students). Arne Duncan has estimated that hundreds of thousands of students were invisible to state accountability systems because of n-size issues. CAP has praised states in the past for lowering their n-sizes, but their plan to have fewer students “count” toward a school’s accountability rating would mean less attention on important subgroups of students.
  4. We already have anecdotes about teachers who prefer to avoid tested grades and subjects. They may prefer teaching in 2nd grade, where there are no required standardized tests, than 3rd grade, where there are. But it’s tough to avoid the current tests altogether because they’re given in 3rd through 8th grade. Grade-span testing would make it even tougher to attract teachers into those few areas with much higher stakes. Who wants to be a 5th grade teacher when they might responsible for their entire school? In most places, they won’t even earn any extra money for all the added pressure! Moreover, this is exactly the kind of policy the AFT previously opposed for teacher evaluations. A year ago, Weingarten wrote: “In Florida, the system went completely haywire, giving teachers value-added scores for students they had never taught.” If it’s not okay for educator accountability, why is it okay for school accountability?
  5. Standardized tests are often criticized for merely reflecting student demographics. While states and districts have been slow to implement accountability systems that incorporate student growth, with annual statewide testing, we at least had a hope of shifting attention to how much progress students make over time. CAP and the AFT once shared this hope. Yes, not all that long ago AFT advocated for an ESEA that “judges school effectiveness—the only valid and fair basis for accountability—by measuring the progress that schools achieve with the same students over time.” With longer gaps between tests that count for accountability purposes, we’re more likely to lean even heavier on raw test scores, measures that are highly correlated with student demographics.
  6. Under this plan, students and families would still get a sense of how much progress they’re making. That’s important, but it’s odd to then turn around and suggest that states and school districts should ignore this same information for determining school progress. As CAP’s 2011 NCLB recommendations suggest, “Measuring and reporting student data is not sufficient to improve our nation’s schools. Congress should take several steps to ensure schools act on that data to boost student outcomes.” We assume they did not mean several steps backwards.
  7. AFT and CAP pitch their proposal as targeting interventions to schools with large achievement gaps. That’s true, it would identify schools with gaps. But, ironically, it would give no credit to schools that are actually closing those achievement gaps. CAP used to support annual gap-closing goals. But now, schools with large concentrations of economically disadvantaged and minority students, English Language Learners, or students with disabilities would all be penalized unfairly, worse than they are under NCLB.

Ultimately, this plan would move us closer to how other countries do testing: fewer tests with much higher stakes. Rather than having regular check-ups on student progress, with relatively low stakes on those results, we’d have much higher stakes attached to a smaller number of test scores. Fortunately, AFT and CAP have already told us why this is a bad idea.