Southeast Asian American and Pacific Islander advocates have said that data disaggregation is one of the core civil rights issues of our time. I believe this statement to be wholly true. I am also deeply frustrated that our legislators do little to prioritize the fight to disaggregate AAPI data, and reveal the deeply ingrained socioeconomic inequities that aggregated AAPI data mask.
It takes so little to disaggregate AAPI data. The cost to state and federal institutions are minimal, and the Census has already provided a clear road map for the kind of ethnic information that states can and should collect. Meanwhile, the payout for adding just a few more crosstabs to demographic data is astronomical: with disaggregated data, we can get a better sense of how certain AAPI groups are struggling, and what kinds of public policies should be enacted to best address those communities.
So, I need some help here: why the hell does data disaggregation still face such strong political resistance?
Last week, California’s State Department of Education rejected requests by 28 lawmakers — including some of the state’s own congressional representatives — to apply for a federal grant for data disaggregation. If awarded, the federal grant would have given the State of California nearly half a million dollars to partner with local schools to collect ethnically disaggregated data.
Again, I need some help here: how the hell do you literally turn down money because you don’t want to commit to collecting disaggregated data?
California State Department of Education officials reportedly explained the decision not to seek the federal grant money by saying the money wasn’t enough, and that California districts already collect ethnic information.
Yet, I checked the demographic data published by the California State Department of Education — ethnically disaggregated AAPI data are not provided for California’s public school districts. So, if those data are being collected in a disaggregated manner — and there’s no evidence off the CDE website that they are being collected in a cohesive and comprehensive fashion that would allow district-by-district comparisons — that information is certainly not being made available for external analysis.
The fight for data disaggregation is essential. California is home to among the nation’s largest population of Asian Americans: nearly 1 million (or 17%) of those Asian Americans are Southeast Asian American. Educational attainment is markedly lower for Southeast Asian Americans compared to other groups: only about half of Southeast Asian Americans graduate from high school, and ~85-90% of Hmong, Cambodian, and Laotian Americans do not have a bachelor’s degree. Instead, Southeast Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are more likely to live in poverty, and to fall victim of our mass incarceration system. Those numbers are staggering, but few know about these struggling Americans because we persistently fold Southeast Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders into a monolithic “Asian” demographic group, where their cries for help are drowned out by the higher indices of other AAPI ethnic groups.
Invisibility is killing Southeast Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and we have a moral obligation to do something about it.
Representative Judy Chu, who is among the lawmakers who first requested that California apply for the federal money, told the Sacramento Bee that she would continue to press the Department of Education to submit a grant proposal to Congress for the money.
Meanwhile, I urge you to contact the California State Department of Education urging them to reconsider their decision not to to seek federal money for data disaggregation. You can reach them here:
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