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Asian-American activists voice support for suspension of exam school test

A joint letter

The debate over changing admissions procedures at the three exam schools has been a difficult and heart-wrenching conversation in the Asian American community. That is because Asian Americans, unlike other students of color, are disproportionately represented in the exam schools, yet many in the community are keenly aware that our own progress is linked to the fight for equity for all people of color.

In the middle of this important conversation about educational equity, the chair of the School Committee chose to make a joke of a name as a Chinese community member was called forth to testify. And this was after nearly all of the meeting had gone on without interpretation for those with limited English. Not only was this behavior racist and insensitive, it was infantile in a moment when we are asking everyone to be considered and mature. We are glad that Michael Loconto was quickly renounced and asked to resign his position, but that action has not addressed the ongoing ignorance and insensitivity to educational struggles of our communities of color.

First, the most important way to improve educational equity is to improve all public schools in the city, not just the three exam schools. The inequity of resources and opportunities in the district creates the scarcity mentality which leaves families feeling that their only path upward is to get a coveted seat in the exam schools. Nowhere is this mentality more intense than in the Asian American communities, which have the highest rate of its children in BPS at 87%, compared to 58% for white, 62% for Black, and 83% for Latino students. Unlike the media stereotype in “Crazy Rich Asians,” most of Boston’s Asian American students are the children of restaurant workers, hotel housekeepers, home health aides, and nail salon workers, working day-to-day to make ends meet. Their relative success in gaining access to the exam schools is an anomaly probably related to an overwhelming focus and entrance exam culture embedded in Asian countries for thousands of years.

As progressive Asian American activists, we support the suspension of the entrance exam as a criterion for selection to attend the exam schools in favor of standards that will lead to increased diversity and improved access, particularly for Black and Latinx communities. This should also include a priority for BPS students, so that those who have spent K-12 in the public system are not competing with students who have spent time in and have the means to go to elite private schools. We also should be sensitive to the needs of low-income families who happen to live in public housing within a wealthier zip code.

But, most importantly, we need to improve educational opportunity for every student in every Boston school. Until we do that, the exam school controversy is a losing race.

Carolyn Chou, Dorchester resident, Asian American Resource Workshop

Jessica Tang, Boston Teachers Union, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance MA, Massachusetts Asian American Educators Association (MAAEA)

Karen Y. Chen, Chinese Progressive Association

Katie Yue-Sum Li, BPS teacher, BPS ELL Task Force member, Massachusetts Asian American Educators Association (MAAEA)

Lisette Le, Vietnamese American Initiative for Development, Inc.

Lydia Lowe, Chinese Progressive Political Action

Suzanne Lee, long-time activist and retired school principal

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