Why should districts expand (by a lot) the ways students can identify who they are?
June 10, 2020
Mindy Kordash-Shim (L.A. ’11) is the communications director for a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District board, Mónica García. Kordash-Shim, who was born in South Korea, serves on the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council and on the board of Act To Change, a national nonprofit that’s been raising the alarm about bullying and violence against Asians and Asian Americans spurred by COVID-19-related rhetoric.
Last year Kordash-Shim was on the organizing committee that helped the school board pass a resolution requiring the district to disaggregate the data it collects on all students and employees, including Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander students. Students and employees can self-identify along more than 200 ethnic and regional lines specific to their backgrounds, with that data informing district policies and spending. Kordash-Shim’s boss sponsored the “Everyone Counts” resolution, written by policy deputy and former Leadership for Educational Equity policy fellow Andrew Murphy (Las Vegas ’09).
Q: Just how disaggregated is LAUSD's data now?
A: The resolution adds 208 new values on district forms to the previous 19 racial, ethnic, national, and regional identities. So now when a student checks a box on an enrollment form, they’ll be able to choose from 227 ethnicities and nationalities, from Mien to Uzbekistani to Honduran.
Q: Why was it important to do this?
A: Together, the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) communities and the Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian (AMEMSA) communities make up 18% of LAUSD’s students. Historically, most would have been grouped as “Asian American,” and their needs as immigrants, English language learners, and religious minorities might have fallen through the cracks. For example, “ELL” in our district is typically synonymous with our Latino population, but there’s a huge population of AANHPI students who are English language learners. Disaggregated data will shed light on disparities between different groups to fight the myth that all Asian Americans are doing well.
Q: What difference does this make for students?
A: Ultimately, it’s about being seen. Our district includes Koreatown, Chinatown, Japantown, Historic Filipinotown, and Little Bangladesh, but there’s also a large Latino community made up of people from across Latin America, and the data will be disaggregated for those communities as well.
In terms of instruction, the resolution calls for the exploration of new classes based on the disaggregated data, such as ethnic studies classes. So students might soon have more options to learn about their own histories
Q: From a communications perspective, how did you activate so many diverse communities to get behind this?
A: First, we made sure we were inclusive in the planning process. We worked with over 40 organizations.
It’s also really important to find common ground. In the AANHPI community, that can be hard because there are so many different identities, religions, and languages grouped under one umbrella term. I think the way the community came together after Vincent Chin was killed in 1982 was a watershed moment of coalition building and advocacy. We experienced something similar working on this resolution with community organizations.
Last, something I keep in mind when I write communications for our office is that I always include a story of the greatness and resilience of our students and families. If we don't help tell their stories, who will?
Q: Do you have advice for someone trying to do this in another district?
A: Reach out to LAUSD. We received a lot of resources and support from Seattle Public Schools, who disaggregated data before us. Part of our goal now is to encourage data disaggregation across California and nationally.
I would also start by building grassroots support among organizations or people who share the same vision and goals as you. Then contact your school board member to find your advocate. Cast a wide net. It might take more than one phone call, but there is someone who can help you navigate the district and its processes.
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