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Asian American Education and Income Attainment in the Era of Post-Racial America


by Alejandro Covarrubias & Daniel D. Liou — 2014

Background: Prevailing perceptions of Asian Americans as model minorities have long situated this population within postracial discourse, an assumption that highlights their educational success as evidence of the declining significance of race and racism, placing them as models of success for other people of color. Despite evidence to repudiate the model minority thesis, the visibility of Asian Americans in higher education continues to reinforce essentialist paradigms about their presumed success while rendering invisible the educational experiences and diminished educational earning power of low-income, women, and noncitizen Asian populations.

Purpose: The purpose of this article is to situate the most recent data on the mobility of Asian American students within the K–Ph.D. educational system in the new so-called colorblind postracial America. This article presents the most recent national educational outcomes for Asian Americans by looking at differences in attainment across race, class, gender, citizenship, and educational earning power.

Research Design: Drawing from the March Supplement of the Census’ 2010 Current Population Survey (CPS), we carried out multiple cross-tabulations that allowed us to disaggregate the educational attainment and earning power for Asian Americans across various social categories. The March Supplement of the CPS, referred to as the Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC), is given once a year over 3 months—the 2010 ASEC was given to 77,000 households, with a response rate of over 91.5%. This quantitative analysis of the intersectional effect of race, class, gender, and citizenship provides a more nuanced examination of their interactional impact on educational attainment.

Findings/Results: Our intersectional analysis of educational attainment and earning power reveals the multiplicity of experiences and heterogeneity among Asian Americans. There is a clear positive relationship between class and educational attainment, but the intersectional impact of gender with class, and gender with citizenship points to a nonlinear relationship between these constructs and educational attainment when they are examined together. The data also make evident important gaps in earning power for Asian Americans compared with White Americans, and an especially disproportionate burden of diminished earnings for Asian American women.

Conclusions/Recommendations: This study sounds the alarm as postracial discourse has created several new challenges on issues related to Asian Americans, affirmative action policies, and the vitality of ethnic studies in the K–Ph.D. system. As a result of this study, the authors warn that the model minority thesis inaccurately depicts Asian Americans in policy discussions on education, race relations, poverty, and civil rights. This article makes important recommendations for coalition building, research approaches, and a new educational policy framework that can mediate current policy failures to include Asian Americans in discussions of equity.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 6, 2014, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17279, Date Accessed: 10/30/2014 2:14:01 PM

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About the Author
  • Alejandro Covarrubias
    Institute of Service-Learning, Power, & Intersectional Research
    E-mail Author
    ALEJANDRO COVARRUBIAS, community scholar at the Institute of Service-Learning, Power, & Intersectional Research, uses intersectional theory to examine education policy implications of institutionalized privilege and oppression on different socially constructed groups. His current work studies the impact of intersectional subordination on the educational outcomes of diverse groups, including Asian Americans, people of Mexican origin, undocumented populations, and working-class individuals in distinct racialized spaces. He Covarrubias has also researched the experiences of students who have been pushed out of high school, the alternative educational settings that reengage them, and the linkages to the failed “war on drugs.” Recent work includes: Covarrubias, A., & Velez, V. (2013). Critical race quantitative intersectionality: An anti-racist research paradigm that refuses to “let the numbers speak for themselves.” In M. Lynn & A. Dixon, Handbook of critical race theory in education, Routledge; and Covarrubias, A., & Lara, A. (2013). “The (im)migration educational pipeline: The impact of citizenship status on educational attainment for people of Mexican origin. Urban Education, 1–36.
  • Daniel Liou
    Arizona State University
    E-mail Author
    DANIEL D. LIOU is an assistant professor at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. His current research focuses on equity-minded school reform and how students experience their school leaders’ expectations in the classroom. His article with René Antrop-González and Robert Cooper, “Unveiling the promise of community cultural wealth to sustaining Latina/o students’ college-going information networks,” was published in 2009 in Educational Studies.
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