Does Race Matter in Education?

I have been following Assembly Bill 176 since its inception early last year. Eager to track how the bill passed through the legislature, watching how its support grew, all with the hopes that it would get approved and signed into law before the end of 2015. Assembly Bill 176, or AB 176, focuses on collecting and disaggregating data on Asians and Pacific Islanders (API) across institutions of higher education and health agencies, consistent with the U.S. Census’ ethnic categories. The main goal of this bill is to take a step in unmasking some of the disparities that lurk among underserved API communities, particularly as APIs comprise 15% of the population in California (U.S. Census, Quick Facts).

Abundant academic research shows that performing race-specific research is directly relevant to improving educational outcomes across large groups of students. As is the case for understanding student’s ethnic identity, and the interaction of culture as lived and experienced at multiple layers of each student’s environment (Lara, 2009).

Yet, on October 7th 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the bill citing that “to focus on ethnic identity may not be enough” and that “dividing people into ethnic or other subcategories may yield more information, but not necessarily greater wisdom about what actions should follow” (Office of the Governor).

However, AB 176 goes further than yielding more information; it provides an understanding of the composition of APIs across the state, a currently unavailable view in higher education and health agencies. Supporters of this bill argue that while APIs share some common challenges such as racial discrimination and language barriers, “each diverse community has different social, economic and educational outcomes that need to be addressed appropriately” (Rob Bonta, 2015). Such as the needs of a child of a doctor from India or a refugee from Vietnam stowed away in a boat. The bill would provide valuable data on the educational performance and learning needs of API students, which can allow educators to design targeted supports for under performing communities.

AB 176 had a broad range of backers, topped by President Obama. Current supporters of AB 176 include the California Latino Legislative Caucus, the California Legislative Black Caucus, and two large community colleges, Los Angeles Community College District and Pasadena Community College. But the recent reestablishment of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders by President Obama has put more pressure on understanding the issues that affect APIs (Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, 2015). In a statement, the group highlighted that “Disaggregated data will help target resources where they’re most needed — in high schools where almost half of Cambodians aren’t earning a diploma, in colleges where only 14.7 percent of NHPIs graduate, and in communities where the average per capita income of Hmong Americans is lower than any racial group nationwide.” (White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders- Data Disaggregation).

I am disappointed that the governor vetoed AB 176, and I hope that it will be re-introduced this year, and that Governor Brown will recognize what the research shows — disaggregating data is essential to understanding what is happening with our students. Let’s keep sharing the possibilities of what AB 176 can help to achieve and continue building support so we can start designing and targeting effective interventions for disadvantaged populations.

Educational research scientist with the goal of making the achievement gap a thing of the past.

Educational research scientist with the goal of making the achievement gap a thing of the past.