Equity & Diversity

Discrimination at School Harms Development of Young ELLs, Study Says

By Corey Mitchell — September 10, 2015 2 min read
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A new report from the Migration Policy Institute outlines the types of personal and structural discrimination that young children of immigrants may experience at school.

The study from the organization’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy makes the case that the experiences of young children of immigrants, many of whom are English-language learners, from pre-kindergarten through 3rd grade play a significant role in determining their academic future.

When schools view children of immigrants positively, the students are more likely to form “positive connections with the larger U.S. society.” Conversely, focusing on their lack of English ability or knowledge of U.S. culture during their early years can negatively affect their personal development and academic trajectories.

The study found that personal discrimination can take four forms:

  • Negative interaction with school staff and peers, including negative comments about children’s accents and impatience with those who struggle to express themselves in English.
  • Narrow learning experiences, including tracking children of immigrants in English-as-a-secon-lLanguage classrooms where poorly trained staff focus almost exclusively on basic English-literacy tasks.
  • Low educational expectations that may lead to a decline in academic and social skills.
  • Devaluation of primary languages, including negative views of bilingualism.

The study also detailed four forms of structural discrimination:

  • School segregation that often leaves children of immigrants concentrated in schools with low exposure to English-fluent students.
  • Lack of high-quality educational resources, including less-experienced and less-skilled teachers, often in schools with lower-than-average academic outcomes.
  • Low engagement with parents because teachers are often unable to communicate and engage with immigrant parents.
  • Misdiagnosis of special education needs with teachers often conflating limited English proficiency and learning disabilities.

The report also offers recommendations that focus on training teachers, building relationships between schools and immigrant communities, and encouraging more culturally sensitive learning experiences.

Jennifer Keys Adair, an assistant professor in the department of curriculum and instruction at the University of Texas, is the report’s author.

The Impact of Discrimination on the Early Schooling Experiences of Children From Immigrant Families

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.