K-12 Educational Outcomes of Immigrant Youth


The children from immigrant families in the United States make up a historically diverse population, and they are demonstrating just as much diversity in their experiences in the K-12 educational system. Robert Crosnoe and Ruth López Turley summarize these K-12 patterns, paying special attention to differences in academic functioning across segments of the immigrant population defined by generational status, race and ethnicity, and national origin.

A good deal of evidence points to an immigrant advantage in multiple indicators of academic progress, meaning that many youths from immigrant families outperform their peers in school. This apparent advantage is often referred to as the immigrant paradox, in that it occurs despite higher-than-average rates of social and economic disadvantages in this population as a whole.

The immigrant paradox, however, is more pronounced among the children of Asian and African immigrants than other groups, and it is stronger for boys than for girls. Furthermore, evidence for the paradox is far more consistent in secondary school than in elementary school. Indeed, school readiness appears to be one area of potential risk for children from immigrant families, especially those of Mexican origin. For many groups, including those from Latin America, any evidence of the immigrant paradox usually emerges after researchers control for family socioeconomic circumstances and youths' English language skills. For others, including those from Asian countries, it is at least partially explained by the tendency for more socioeconomically advantaged residents of those regions to leave their home country for the United States. Bilingualism and strong family ties help to explain immigrant advantages in schooling; school, community, and other contextual disadvantages may suppress these advantages or lead to immigrant risks.

Crosnoe and Turley also discuss several policy efforts targeting young people from immigrant families, especially those of Latin American origin. One is the DREAM Act, proposed federal legislation to create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth who meet certain criteria. Another effort includes culturally grounded programs to support the college preparation of immigrant adolescents and the educational involvement of immigrant parents of young children.