Elitism or Erasure? How Asian Americans Frame and Mobilize Around Selective Admissions Reforms in K-12 Schools
Shirley Xu

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Vanderbilt University

Primary Discipline

Educational Policy
Redistributive admissions policies such as affirmative action and the elimination of standardized admissions exams have been effective tools for increasing educational opportunity for historically marginalized students across both public K-12 and higher education. However, these policies face continual attack from conservative opposition groups, whose latest strategy centers claims of anti-Asian discrimination. These claims have been successful in mobilizing some Asian Americans into political action, granting the opposition movement legal and electoral victories. Yet, considerable gaps remain in our understanding of how Asian Americans themselves interpret these policies, and how they are being induced to act, either for or against equity-oriented initiatives—particularly against facially race-neutral policies in a post-SFFAlegal landscape. In this mixed-methods dissertation, I explore how Asian Americans perceive redistributive admissions policies, how they are being mobilized in support or opposition to these policies, and how issue framing and policy design can impact their level of support. In Phase 1, I conduct in-depth interviews with Asian-identifying community members and activists across two sites of K-12 admissions controversy: Lowell High School in San Francisco, and Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Northern Virginia. From these interview data, I derive distinct issue frames and design components to develop the treatment arms of an original survey experiment in Phase 2 that targets a national sample. This study’s results will provide policymakers with greater understanding of how to account for public opinion in the creation and framing of equity-oriented policies and help identify opportunities for intervention and coalition building.
About Shirley Xu
Shirley H. Xu is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development. Her research broadly examines how race, ethnicity, and immigration shape and manifest within education policies, politics, and research itself. This scholarship is rooted in her lived experiences as a second-generation Chinese American from the Gulf Coast of Texas and as a former English and ESL teacher in Houston’s Title I public high schools. Currently, she focuses on how racially minoritized educators, immigrant and multilingual learners, and Asian American students and parents interact with and experience the U.S. education system. Her dissertation investigates public opinion formation and political mobilization within Asian American communities regarding controversial admissions reforms at selective public high schools across the United States. An interdisciplinary scholar and mixed-methods researcher, Shirley integrates theoretical perspectives across economics, political science, sociology, and social psychology, and employs a range of methodological approaches from qualitative interviews to quasi-experimental quantitative methods. Ongoing research collaborations include projects that examine the effects of secondary-grade reclassification on academic and employment outcomes for former English-learner-identified students, labor market barriers to recruiting and retaining teachers and school leaders of color, and how quantitative studies can operationalize race/ethnicity to better account for historical contingencies of immigration. Shirley was named a 2022 Equity and Inclusion Fellow by the Association for Public Policy and Analysis (APPAM). She received a B.A. in English and a teaching certificate in grades 7-12 English Language Arts and Reading from Rice University.

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