- Most research on racial gaps in school discipline compares white students to their black and Hispanic peers, but significant gaps also exist between white students and Pacific Islander students when that group is separated from other Asian Americans, according to a new paper published in the American Educational Research Journal.
- Analyzing school year 2013-14 data from the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, which is disaggregated by ethnicity, the researchers find that Pacific Islanders were twice as likely as white students to face school discipline — and differences between Asian American and Pacific Islander subgroups also emerged.
- For Melanesian students, for example, there were 16.67 discipline occurrences per 100 students, compared to white students of 4.21 for white students. “The data reveal that Pacific Islanders have very different experiences than Asian Americans,” the researchers write, calling for additional research to better understand the barriers facing these students that might cause these gaps in discipline.
The authors, including Bach Mai Dolly Nguyen of Lewis and Clark College and Pedro Noguera of the University of California, Los Angeles, address the concept of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders being a "model minority" — a long-held notion that these students “achieve universal and unparalleled academic success” because they work hard and don’t get in trouble.
But this theory overlooks the experiences of smaller subgroups that may face challenges similar to black and Hispanic students. The “few studies that are available on these subgroups reveal that they face significant structural barriers that often impede their educational achievement and attainment and, thus, their life circumstances,” the authors write.
Research in 2013 by the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education, for example, showed that about a 37% of Cambodians and about a third of Laotians nationally report earning less than a high school diploma, compared to just 5.3% of Japanese and 4.8% of Taiwanese adults in the U.S.
As schools continue to grow more diverse, the study — and Washington state’s practice of reporting data on Asian American and Pacific Islanders by smaller subgroup — will likely draw more attention. The authors also recommend more research on those who are the “victims” of discipline infractions, as well as those considered to be the perpetrators. “Through a more critical examination of how perceptions, stereotypes and biases play a role in defining victims and perpetrators,” they write, “research may better understand how to address racial disparities in school discipline.”