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Model minority tag hides Asian drop-out problem

Dorothy Lepkowska reports from the annual American Educational Research Association conference in San Diego

The well-publicised academic achievements of Chinese, Japanese and Korean-American teen-agers are masking high drop-out rates in other Asian communities.

Media reports of Asian children's success have created a myth that they are a model minority who never fail in school, said Guofang Li, an assistant professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

In fact there is a wide spread of achievement within and between Asian groups. Laotian and Vietnamese children often struggle in school and sometimes have higher drop-out rates than their white schoolmates.

Many Hmong pupils (whose parents came from China, Thailand and Laos) are also falling behind, partly because more than half of them are from families living below the poverty line.

Their high school drop-out figures are starting to cause concern, Dr Li said, but the true totals might be even worse than education administrators feared.

"Asian drop-out rates in general may be underestimated because their numbers are less well-documented," she said. "It's only in the inner-city areas where there is a large Asian population that the drop-outs become more visible."

Dr Li accepted that Asian students generally outscore all other ethnic groups in maths but said that in some states, such as Minnesota and Alaska, at least 50 per cent of Asian elementary school children were below the basic reading level.

"Many of these children are from immigrant families who may not receive the help they need from schools," she said. "Unfortunately, because of the model minority myth, there is a tendency to 'blame the victim' who falls behind rather than offer the necessary support.

"One family I interviewed was struggling to make a living in the restaurant trade but they bought the Encyclopaedia Britannica for their children and asked the school for more English lessons.

"The school said the remedial class was best for them but as they were being taught about kitchen safety and how to catch a bus it was not necessarily helping their literacy."

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