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Study Highlights Unmet Needs of Immigrant Students

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Despite the record number of immigrant youths entering the public schools in the last decade, federal and state policies have failed to address their needs, a new study concludes.

The report by the RAND Corporation, a California-based think tank, argues that the concentration of immigrant students in urban school systems in five states has left the rest of the country with little incentive to provide the help the children need to succeed in school.

In the 1980's, nearly two million immigrant children entered the United States. Most of them have less formal schooling than their predecessors, and more come from families that lived in poverty or in war-torn areas, according to the report.

Yet the bulk are enrolled in urban schools in five states--California, New York, Florida, Illinois, and Texas--where resources are scarce and school services are often limited.

The study, which was funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Program for Research on Immigration Policy, recommends launching a broad national campaign to focus resources on cities most affected by immigration. It also suggests that state and local governments, universities, and foundations provide additional support.

According to the report, about 45 percent of the country's immigrant students are educated in California alone. In the Los Angeles area, 20 percent of all students are foreign born.

"Local schools are doing the best they can,'' Lorraine M. McDonnell, one of the authors of the study, said in an interview.

But, she added, "the change that would most benefit immigrant youth is working on problems in the urban schools.''

'Help Big Cities Improve'

Ms. McDonnell and Paul T. Hill collected data from 57 schools in nine districts, including San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, Houston, and New York. They also looked at schools in rural Visalia, Calif., and in affluent, suburban Fairfax County, Va.

While finding that many districts have a creative approach to educating immigrant students--working with them in small "newcomer'' schools, for instance--the authors also propose several strategies for improving programs around the country.

Policies for limited-English-proficient students, which were developed to meet the needs of American-born speakers of foreign languages, need to be updated, the report urges. And districts and universities should focus on training more bilingual teachers and on offering more instructional materials in less-common languages.

The authors also suggest that districts unable to fund newcomer schools create schools-within-schools or reception classes for immigrant students. Improving adult-education programs for dropouts or for the immigrant parents of school-age youngsters would also enhance the schools' regular programs, the report states.

But the authors stress that programs tailored solely for immigrants will not improve their educational opportunities.

"Some way must be found for the federal government and states to move beyond their current emphasis on small categorical programs to help big cities improve their school systems across the board,'' they conclude.

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