“Excellence, not white students, should be education benchmark”

(This letter to the editor was published in The Gazette newspaper on Aug. 3, 2011.)

The June 29 front page article, “Then & Now,” highlighted retiring Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jerry Weast’s determination to close the achievement gap between white students and “traditional minorities.” As a member of the Asian-American community and a parent of a MCPS graduate under Weast, I am disappointed that your list of “traditional minorities” was limited to just black and Hispanic students. While I can understand MCPS’ focus as a strategy for gap closing, your paper should have included Asian-American students in your overall comparison and reporting because the data were readily available.

While at the national level, Asian-Americans are still a relatively small population compared to the black and Hispanic populations, in today’s Montgomery County, the three communities are comparable in size: 17 percent Hispanic, 16.6 percent black and 14 percent Asian. What’s more, the omission of Asian-American student data negates the fact Asian-American students are an integral part of our school community and have helped raise the bar for academic excellence in MCPS.

According to MCPS reports, Asian-American students outperformed all groups in a five-year comparison in percentage of graduates who earned one or more Advanced Placement scores of 3 or higher, and Asian-American and white students are very close to one another in their mean SAT combined scores over a five-year period. MCPS reports repeatedly mentioned white and Asian-American students together when comparing data.

As our county becomes dramatically more diverse than it was just a generation ago and a majority-minority community, we need to re-examine our institutionalized practices of collecting data and telling stories, including who we use as a default benchmark of excellence. Excellence, not white students, should be the benchmark of excellence, no matter who represents that. Raising the bar should not mean raising it up to the white standard, nor should closing the achievement gap mean putting everybody at the level of white students.

Whether Asian-American students should be considered part of the “traditional minorities” or as a group with whom the “traditional minorities” need to close the achievement gaps with, they deserve to be listed to reflect a more complete picture of our community and the school system.

Lily Qi, North Potomac
The writer is vice chairwoman of the Governor’s Commission on Asian-American Affairs.

© 2011 Post-Newsweek Media, Inc./Gazette.Net