Asian New Yorkers are more interested in racially diverse schools than is widely understood, according to a new survey from the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF).

“We call for a public school system that not only values diversity, inclusivity, and integration but also stands in solidarity with and empowers marginalized communities to have a voice,” reads the CACF report, “A Diverse City Needs Integrated Schools.”

The findings were released Monday, the final day for thousands of New York City middle school students to submit their applications for public high schools across the five boroughs. It comes amid an ongoing debate about racial equity in the public school system, with the survey amplifying the voices of Asian parents who are critical of specialized high schools and Gifted and Talented programs.

The end goal should be for schools that represent the city’s diversity, encourage growth and intellectual curiosity, and challenge students to explore topics deeply to be the norm for all students.
Coalition for Asian American Children and Families report

The survey includes no statistical conclusions; rather, it is a compilation of comments based on those who responded to a survey. It draws on responses from 78 Asian New Yorkers, including members of the Thai, Chinese, Indian, Bangladeshi, Filipino, Uzbek and Vietnamese communities. The majority of respondents were parents who had themselves done at least some of their K-12 schooling in New York.

Vanessa Leung, CACF’s co-executive director, said the release of the survey replies was meant to counter a media narrative that often centered Chinese American voices opposing integration. The same narrative, she said, allowed the broader Asian American community to be “used as a wedge” against Black and Latino families struggling to secure a good education, while disregarding the most marginalized learners within the Asian community.

“We felt the need to uplift the voices that are often erased in conversations around ‘How do we move forward as a city in the most segregated public school system in the country?’” said Leung.

In recent years the minuscule number of Black and Latino students gaining access to the city’s specialized high schools has received considerable attention. This year, Black students comprised 20% of those who took the Specialized High School Aptitude Test (SHSAT) but only 3% of those who ultimately obtained a seat. Meanwhile, Latino students made up 25% of test applicants and just 5% of those who secured offers.

More conservative Asian New Yorkers have argued that attempts at integration, including doing away with the SHSAT, come at the expense of Asian children who have fought hard to gain a seat in one of the city’s most prestigious schools. This fear was corroborated by a 2019 report from the city’s Independent Budget Office, which found that a school integration plan for the city’s eight specialized high schools would have resulted in half as many Asian students receiving admission.

“All students should have equal rights to education, based on their merit and not on their race,” said Yiatin Chu, president of the Asian Wave Alliance, during a rally against affirmative action in Bayside, Queens last month, according to the Queens Chronicle.

But some respondents in the CACF report argue that such a view propagates the “model minority” myth, which the report defines as the “presumption that Asian Americans are naturally educationally successful.” These people claim increased diversity at New York City schools has considerable benefits for Asian students themselves, including an atmosphere that values critical thinking as well as cultural responsiveness.

“The focus of education policy must be on quality education for all,” the report stated. “The end goal should be for schools that represent the city’s diversity, encourage growth and intellectual curiosity, and challenge students to explore topics deeply to be the norm for all students.”