Education and the Model Minority Myth

Posted August 23, 2023
A young Asian girl sits at a desk. She's sitting turned toward the camera, smiling, holding a pen, preparing to write in a notebook.

The label mod­el minor­i­ty” has been used for decades. It per­pet­u­ates a detri­men­tal stereo­type that Asian Amer­i­cans (AA) are more aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly and finan­cial­ly high achiev­ing than oth­er racial and eth­nic groups. This has mul­ti­ple dam­ag­ing effects:

  • The expec­ta­tion from teach­ers, peers and oth­ers that one is aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly high achiev­ing can cre­ate psy­cho­log­i­cal stress and pres­sure. Young peo­ple who intense­ly inter­nal­ize the mod­el minor­i­ty myth are espe­cial­ly vul­ner­a­ble to its harm­ful effects at this for­ma­tive stage of life. 2021 study in the Jour­nal of Youth and Ado­les­cence also notes that it is dehu­man­iz­ing as it pun­ish­es those who devi­ate from the stereo­type and the nar­row def­i­n­i­tion of success.”
  • Accord­ing to a recent report from the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress, Pacif­ic Islander youth have also report­ed expe­ri­enc­ing the mod­el minor­i­ty” stereo­type from teach­ers. These young peo­ple describe being per­ceived as either: 
    1. mod­el stu­dents with their aca­d­e­m­ic needs ignored; or
    2. dis­ap­point­ments if they don’t live up to expec­ta­tions and are dis­cour­aged from attend­ing four-year universities.

Edu­ca­tion Data on Asian Amer­i­can Students

Read on for dis­ag­gre­gat­ed stats on the expe­ri­ences of AA and Native Hawai­ian and Pacif­ic Islander (NHPI) students.

High School Dropout Rate

The lat­est data from the Nation­al Cen­ter for Edu­ca­tion Sta­tis­tics shows that while the aggre­gat­ed high school dropout rate for all AA young peo­ple ages 16 to 24 is only 2%, the rate is 6% for Cam­bo­di­an Amer­i­cans, 9% for Nepalese Amer­i­cans and 20% for Burmese Amer­i­cans. Among all Pacif­ic Islanders ages 16 to 24, the rate is 7% (not avail­able by NHPI population).

School Dis­ci­pline

Puni­tive or unfair school dis­ci­pline prac­tices, such as dis­pro­por­tion­ate sus­pen­sions from school, are asso­ci­at­ed with poor stu­dent out­comes like drop­ping out of school. A 2022 Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress report found that Pacif­ic Islander stu­dents, specif­i­cal­ly, were sus­pend­ed at a high­er rate (4.5%) than AA (1%) and white (3.4%) stu­dents. Pacif­ic Islander boys were sus­pend­ed at an even high­er rate — 6.2%. (While these data were not dis­ag­gre­gat­ed by NHPI pop­u­la­tion, lit­tle nation­al atten­tion has focused on school dis­ci­pline for NHPI students.)

Eng­lish Proficiency:

A Pew Research arti­cle report­ed that less than 4 in 10 Amer­i­cans of Bhutanese (36%) and Burmese (38%) descent ages 5 and old­er were pro­fi­cient in Eng­lish, com­pared to more than 8 in 10 Amer­i­cans of Japan­ese, Fil­ipino and Indi­an descent (85%, 84% and 82%, respectively).

Col­lege Atten­dance for Young Adults:

As shown in the table below, the Nation­al Cen­ter for Edu­ca­tion Sta­tis­tics also reports that more than two-thirds (71%) of all AA young adults ages 18 to 24 have com­plet­ed at least some col­lege, although the same is true for half (50%) of Burmese young adults and just over half of Laot­ian (54%) and Hmong (55%) young adults. The fig­ure was low­er — 42% — for Pacif­ic Islander young adults.

Table One: Asian Amer­i­can and Pacif­ic Islander Edu­ca­tion­al Attain­ment by Select Groups (2019)


Ages 18 to 24 Com­plet­ing at Least Some College

Ages 25 and Old­er With a Bach­e­lor’s or High­er Degree

All Pacif­ic Islanders Combined 42.4% 19.2%
All Asian Descent Combined 71.1% 55.9%
Bangladeshi 68.6% 49.5%
Bhutanese S 17.1%
Burmese 50.1% 26.6%
Cam­bo­di­an 56.8% 23.7%
Chi­nese (includ­ing Taiwanese) 75.9% 58.1%
Fil­ipino 68% 50.1%
Hmong 54.7% 24.5%
Indi­an 74.0% 76.2%
Japan­ese 69.6% 53.8%
Kore­an 73.1% 58.4%
Laot­ian 54.2% 17.0%
Nepalese 58.0% 46.5%
Pak­istani 70.8% 59.5%
Thai 58.1% 46.0%
Viet­namese 69.6% 32.2%
S: Fig­ure not report­ed due to either too few cas­es for a reli­able esti­mate or the coef­fi­cient of vari­a­tion was 50 per­cent or greater. Source: Nation­al Cen­ter for Edu­ca­tion Sta­tis­tics, Digest of Edu­ca­tion Sta­tis­tics, 2021 Table 104.40.

Col­lege Attain­ment for Adults 25 and Older

Among AA adults, those of Indi­an descent are the most like­ly (76%) to have at least a bachelor’s degree, while those of Laot­ian and Bhutanese descent are the least like­ly (both 17%). A 2021 arti­cle by the Pew Research Cen­ter report­ed this sta­tis­tic for addi­tion­al AA groups not shown above, and it found that those of Malaysian, Mon­go­lian and Sri Lankan descent are also among the most like­ly to have a bachelor’s degree or high­er. Among Pacif­ic Islander adults, about 1 in 5 (19%) have com­plet­ed this lev­el of college.

A Note About Language

We use the term Asian Amer­i­cans” in this post to refer to both Asian immi­grants and U.S. cit­i­zens of Asian descent, as the term reflects the vast major­i­ty of this pop­u­la­tion, espe­cial­ly among children.

Learn About Asian Amer­i­can Subgroups

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