Education Policies

The educational needs of many Southeast Asian American (SEAA) students are often overlooked because of the “model minority myth” – a misconception that all Asian Americans excel academically and face no obstacles. This misconception overshadows the dire needs of individual Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) ethnic groups and further hinders any actions that should be taken to address these disparities.

In fact, SEAAs in particular face significant educational disparities. When compared to 85.3% of the overall U.S. population, disaggregated data reveals that only 61.5% of Cambodian, 61.7% of Hmong, 62.5% of Laotian, and 70% of Vietnamese Americans aged 25 and over hold a high school degree or higher.1

SEAA students along with other students of color and Native students often face a significant lack of high quality resources and services, resulting in low enrollment in rigorous courses, low graduation rates and high numbers of students unprepared for college, work and life after graduation. Unfortunately, some of our students who do leave high school prepared for college, work and life may face additional barriers due to their lack of extracurricular or leadership opportunities, immigration status, or economic background.

With a lack of disaggregated achievement and education attainment data, SEAA students, many who attend these under-resourced and low-performing schools, will not receive the appropriate resources and support they need to succeed in education.

SEARAC's education work focuses on these areas:

Disaggregation of data

  • Requiring schools, school districts, and states with significant proportions of AAPI and immigrant communities to collect and report academic achievement and growth data that is disaggregated by Southeast Asian ethnicities to better reflect the real experiences and needs of individual AAPI ethnic student subgroups. Download the Community Member Comment template and submit a comment to the Department of Education's Request for Information here.

K-12 Education

  • Increase federal investment in, and support for, community-based organizations (CBOs) that provide culturally appropriate academic and enrichment services to SEAA high school students, particularly those who are English Language learners, primary caretakers, parents, students with special needs, at-risk of leaving or have already left high school.
  • Require schools to provide, or partner up with CBOs that provide, culturally and linguistically appropriate education-related resources and services to limited English proficient SEAA parents, caregivers, and families in order to increase involvement in education-related decision making.
  • Increase the inclusion and integration of SEAA histories, experiences, and languages into K-12 coursework to accurately portray involvement in American history and present-day events as well as increase inclusion and decrease bias-based tensions in schools and generational gaps in the community.

Higher Education

  • Increase access to affordable and high quality higher education for all students by supporting legislation that will allow immigrant students to fully participate and contribute to American society
  • Increase federal investment in, and support for, programs that provide funding to institutions of higher education that partner up with community-based organizations to outreach to low-income and first generation SEAA K-12 students, develop programs that provide culturally appropriate academic and social retention services to SEAA college students, and increase research and courses on SEAAs.

Southeast Asian American Action and Visibility in Education (SAVE) Program

At its core, SEARAC's education work is focused on building the capacity of our local community partners to engage in education policy reform. The SAVE Program combines capacity building, organizing, advocacy, and action-oriented research to connect the real experiences of Southeast Asian American students to the conversations of other AAPI organizations and civil rights organizations so that they can move policy at the local, state, and federal levels. Learn more about the SAVE Program here.

Coalition Work

SEARAC serves as co-chair of the Education Task Force of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), a coalition of 27 national AAPI organizations that advocate for AAPI issues on a federal level, and on the Education Task Force of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of over 200 organizations dedicated to the civil and human rights of all people living in the United States, as the only AAPI voice on that task force.

SEARAC serves as a commissioner on the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research (CARE) that has produced two reports:

  • Facts, Not Fiction: Setting the Record Straight: The 2008 CARE Report seeks to improve U.S. education for all students by expanding the way education leaders, federal and state policy-makers, and the public understand the complexities, inequities, and strengths of the U.S. educational system. This report is intended to encourage realistic and actionable discussions about how societal distinctions of race, class, ethnicity, language, and other cultural factors are constituted in the day-to-day operations of American schools.
  • Federal Higher Education Policy Priorities and the Asian American and Pacific Islander Community: The 2010 CARE Report focuses most intently on areas of emerging importance related to how AAPIs are positioned within the context of higher education policy priorities. Specifically, the report focuses on three areas of higher education that are critical for AAPIs and the nation looking forward: 1) education and workforce development needs of AAPIs, 2) AAPIs in the community college sector, and 3) AAPIs and minority-serving institution legislation.

SEARAC is also a member on the Asian American and Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISI) Work Group. The AANAPISI Program was created in 2008 to designate and grant money to institutions that serve both significantly high numbers of AAPI and low-income students. The AANAPISI Work Group aims to create a structure for current and potential grantees to share best practices and advocate for the program.

Additionally, SEARAC is a member of The Campaign for High School Equity (CHSE), a diverse coalition of national organizations representing communities of color that believe high schools should have the capacity and motivation to prepare every student for graduation, college, work, and life. The CHSE represents Americans of all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds, united under the mission of raising every U.S. high school to the high level of excellence that all of the country's youth deserve and upon which the nation's future depends. As a member of CHSE’s Policy Committee, SEARAC helps to oversee the development of CHSE policy priorities and the development and production of CHSE documents. As chair of CHSE’s Grassroots Committee, SEARAC leads and directs CHSE partners to engage in local and national advocacy as well as with their local partners, chapters and affiliates in coordinated campaign efforts around Common Core Standards and other CHSE policy priorities.

Doua Thor, Executive Director of SEARAC, talks about including Asian Pacific Islander Americans, especially Southeast Asian American students in the Plan for Success.


To read the complete Plan for Success, click here.

1U.S. American Community Survey. 2009.