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Immigrant Children Succeed Despite Barriers, Report Says

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A new study bolsters a growing line of research suggesting that the children of immigrants do better in school than other American children.

The report, presented at a recent meeting of the Eastern Sociological Society in Philadelphia, is based on interviews with 5,200 8th and 9th graders in San Diego and Miami in 1992. The group included immigrants and the children of immigrants from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia. Eighty-two percent of the teenagers were reinterviewed four years later.

From the first interview to the second, a growing percentage of the students said they had experienced discrimination at some point in their lives. In 1996, for example, 62 percent of the study sample said they had been discriminated against, compared with 54 percent four years earlier.

Yet, despite that problem, only 8.9 percent of the Miami students and 5.7 percent of the San Diego group had given up and dropped out of school by 1996. The overall dropout rates for 9th to 12th graders in Miami and San Diego during the same period were 8.9 percent and 16.2 percent, respectively. Even among Hispanic students--the immigrant group associated with the poorest school outcomes--the dropout rate in San Diego was 8.7 percent--still lower than the district average. ("Hispanic Immigrants Trail Other Groups, Study Says," Aug. 7, 1996.)

In academic grades, immigrant students performed above district averages at every grade level studied. A higher percentage of the immigrant students also aspired to a college degree or higher. And from 1992 to 1996, a rising percentage of the immigrant group said they preferred speaking English to their native languages.

Serious Students

"These are children that do well not only despite their handicap--the language barriers and discrimination and so on--but also because of their handicap," said Ruben G. Rumbaut, a professor of sociology at Michigan State University in East Lansing and the lead author of the study. "They take what they're doing more seriously, and they generally appreciate the fact that, for them, education is the ticket to social mobility."

At least two other studies published in the past year--one by the RAND Corp. and one by New York University researcher Andrew J. Fuligni--drew similar conclusions. But the study by RAND, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based think tank, also suggested that Hispanic immigrants--particularly those from Mexico--fare much worse in school than immigrants from other ethnic groups.

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Web Resources
  • Read a summary of "The New Americans: Economic, Demographic, and Fiscal Effects of Immigration," a 1997 report from the National Research Council.
  • The full text of the report is also available on-line from the National Academy Press.
  • See a chart outlining federal budgets and requests to accomodate bilingual and immigrant education spending, from the U.S. Department of Education Web site. See in particular, additional costs faced by school districts for "Immigrant Education."
  • In "Watching America's Door: The Immigration Backlash and the New Policy Debate," Roberto Suro examines the political reactions to immigration and argues that the sweeping immigration bills of the past have proven ineffective. He concludes with a call for a new and more responsive national immigration policy. From the Twentieth Century Fund Web site.
  • The Cato Institute and the National Immigration Forum released in December 1995 "Immigration: The Demographic and Economic Facts." It includes the effects of immigration on such areas as the environment, welfare, and unemployment.
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