Brookings-Wharton Papers on Urban Affairs 2002 (2002) 206-211
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Derek Neal: This paper seeks to determine whether or notimmigrant school children in New York City are isolated from native-born students, and further determine whether or not there are any negative effects of isolation on the access of immigrant students to resources in schools. I believe that the overall patterns in the results suggest three conclusions. First, race or ethnicity and not immigrant status is the force that drives the sorting of students among schools in New York. Second, students in New York City schools have roughly equal access to the resources that drive classroom spending. Third, the vast majority of students in New York City schools are economically disadvantaged. Here, I review the evidence for these three conclusions. Then, I discuss the implications of these conclusions for broader issues concerning research agendas in urban education.
Table 4 provides ample evidence that foreign-born students are not isolated from the native-born population. All immigrant groups experience considerable exposure to native-born students and also experience low levels of isolation. However, the penultimate row of table 4 foreshadows the most important pattern in the data. Non-white students as a group are quite isolated from white students. Table 5 shows that race and ethnicity exert a strong influence on sorting patterns among all immigrant groups. In short, immigrant school children in New York City are most likely to attend school with people who look like them. How long one has been in the United States is not the important factor for understanding sorting. Rather, race and ethnicity appear to be much more important.
Table 7 describes resources. The classroom spending column is most important. Any large differences in the class sizes experienced by students in different categories should be reflected in this variable. The education production [End Page 206] function literature provides little evidence that non-classroom spending or the observed teacher characteristics in columns one through three are associated with higher levels of student achievement. Per-pupil classroom spending appears to vary little with the composition of class by immigrant status. It is unfortunate that the authors do not provide the exact same set of statistics in table 8, which deals with stratification by race. But there is no evidence in this paper, or apparently in related work by some of the authors, that race is correlated with the distribution of resources among New York City schools.
The most striking result in the paper involves the fact that more than 85 percent of the students in New York City's elementary and middle schools are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Further, table 8 demonstrates that students from all backgrounds attend schools that, on average, contain a majority of students who are economically disadvantaged.
These results are so striking that one must ask whether it would be better to divert future research efforts away from the experiences of immigrants and towards the broader question of the isolation of economically disadvantaged children in urban public schools. The distribution of household income within the city cannot account for the number of free-lunch-eligible children in the public schools. According to the Agriculture Department guidelines, children must be from families within 185 percent of the federal poverty line in order to be eligible for reduced-price or free lunches. In 1998, this meant that children from a family of four were eligible if their family income was below $30,433 dollars per year. 1 I have not been able to find income distribution data for New York City that is broken down by both age of children and family size, but based on 1990 census data, $30,433 in 1998 dollars is well below the real value of median income among all family households within New York City. 2
How can 86 percent of children in New York City public schools be eligible for reduced-price or free lunches given the overall distribution of household income in the city? Two factors come straight to mind...