Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Education Policies Need To Address the Unique Needs of Asian American and Pacific Islander Communities
Press Release

RELEASE: Education Policies Need To Address the Unique Needs of Asian American and Pacific Islander Communities

Washington, D.C. — While Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in the United States have grown at a dramatic pace in recent years, much of the discussion surrounding education policy overlooks the diversity between and within these two communities and their specific needs. A new issue brief released today by the Center for American Progress presents six areas where new research could uplift the lived experiences in public education of both communities.

This research will advance CAP’s work to apply an explicit racial equity lens to K-12 education policymaking and ensure that all children have access to a quality education. A central component of this research will include speaking with Asian American and Pacific Islander educators, students, and family members, as their insights and experiences will help inform CAP’s policy recommendations.

The six key areas identified in this issue brief for further exploration and policy development in CAP’s future work are as follows:

  1. Improving data disaggregation and the effective use of disaggregated data. Looking at student outcomes or student experience trends for Asian American and Pacific Islander students as a whole masks differences within these groups and allows certain subpopulations to struggle unnoticed. CAP will be intentional about using disaggregated data where possible and parsing how specific racial and ethnic subpopulations within the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities experience various education challenges.
  2. Recruiting and retaining Asian American and Pacific Islander educators and school leaders and centering their experiences. Asian Americans make up only 2 percent of teachers and 1 percent of school principals. Pacific Islander educators comprise less than 0.5 percent of U.S. teachers and school principals. CAP has an opportunity to speak directly with Asian American and Pacific Islander educators and school leaders about their experiences, including their interest and awareness of the teaching profession while they were in high school.
  3. Supporting Asian American students and families who are immigrants, English language learners, or have refugee status. About 57 percent of Asian Americans, including 71 percent of adults, were born outside of the United States. Some Asian American immigrants came originally as refugees: Southeast Asian Americans from countries including Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos represent the largest resettled refugee population in the United States, and unfortunately, this population struggles with economic insecurity, low educational attainment, and high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. CAP could speak with school leaders and educators in schools to see what challenges are present and determine what strategies have worked best to support these students and engage with their families.
  4. Ending disproportionate discipline and increasing college readiness for Pacific Islander students. Nationally, only 1 percent of Asian American students and 3.4 percent of white students are suspended, compared with 4.5 percent of Pacific Islander students, including 6.2 percent of Pacific Islander boys. CAP could provide tailored recommendations for schools to better support their Pacific Islander students in preparing for college and beyond.
  5. Preserving traditional languages of Native Hawaiians and other Indigenous groups. Preservation of their native language is a critical issue for Indigenous communities such as Pacific Islander students and their families. CAP could investigate what kinds of support and services are needed to ensure that Hawaii’s immersion schools and language preservation efforts remain successful.
  6. Promoting the mental health of Asian American and Pacific Islander students. Asian American and Pacific Islander student communities are sometimes left out of these policy conversations, due to the perception that these populations do not require support given their academic success as an aggregate and overall lower reported prevalence of mental illnesses. Yet in 2019, suicide was the leading cause of death for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders ages 15 to 24. CAP could meet with specific groups within these communities that have particularly negative experiences at school and might need targeted mental health support.

“The practice of lumping the Asian American and the Pacific Islander communities together ignores the diversity within and between these two unique communities, perpetuates harmful stereotypes such as the ‘model minority’ myth, and dilutes the ability to distribute resources to the students and families who most need them,” said Roby Chatterji, senior policy analyst for K-12 Education at CAP.

“As an Asian American myself, I’m often frustrated by how dominant narratives about my community sometimes ignore the huge variety of perspectives and experiences found within it,” said Jessica Yin, policy analyst for K-12 Education at CAP. “I’m excited that this new body of work will be grounded in the lived experiences of both Asian American and Pacific Islander students, educators, and families to ensure that all proposed policies are meeting their diverse educational needs.”

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For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, please contact Claudia Montecinos at

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