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Home arrow eBook Categories arrow Education arrow The New Demography of America's Schools

The New Demography of America's Schools

eBooks - Education
December 09 2008

The New Demography of America's SchoolsThe New Demography of America's Schools
Immigration and the No Child Left Behind Act

The demographics of U.S. elementary and secondary schools are changing rapidly as a result of record-high immigration. These demographic shifts are occurring alongside implementation of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, the landmark 2002 federal law that holds schools accountable for the academic performance of limited English speaking children and other groups that include many children of immigrants. This report explores how immigration is changing the profile of the nation's elementary and secondary student population during this era of reform.

One in Five Students in Pre-Kindergarten to 12th Grade

Between 14 and 16 million immigrants entered the country during the 1990s, up from 10 million during the 1980s and 7 million during the 1970s. Immigration flows in the 1990s far exceeded those in any decade in the nation’s history. Legal immigration ranged from 700,000 to more than 1 million people a year during the 1990s, while undocumented migration added an estimated 500,000 foreign-born people a year by the end of the decade. This high pace of immigration was sustained during 2000–04, with the foreign-born population increasing by over 1 million a year.

The total foreign-born population passed 34 million in 2004, according to the U.S. Current Population Survey (figure 1). This total is more than 3 million people higher than in 2000 and more than triple the figure of 10 million in 1970. The foreign-born share of the U.S. population more than doubled from less than 5 percent in 1970 to almost 12 percent in 2004. With sustained high levels of immigration, the foreign-born population may reach 42–43 million and account for over 13 percent of the total U.S. population by 2010. Although in absolute numbers the foreign-born population is at a record high, the foreign-born share of the population will remain below the peaks of over 14 percent during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

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Randy Capps is a senior research associate at the Urban Institute.
Michael Fix, formerly a principal research associate at the Urban Institute, is vice president and director of studies at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.
Jeffrey S. Passel, formerly a principal research associate at the Urban Institute, is a senior research fellow at the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C.
Jason Ost and Shinta Herwantoro are former research associates, and Julie Murray is a former research assistant, at the Urban Institute.

There has been a sharp rise in the number of children of immigrants, who now compose one-fifth of all U.S. school-age children. Following a steady rise in immigration, the share of children of immigrants among the school-age population increased rapidly from 6 percent in 1970 to 19 percent in 2000. During the 1990s the number of children of immigrants grew more rapidly in secondary than elementary schools (72 versus 39 percent). This relatively higher concentration in secondary schools is important because they have not been structured to promote language acquisition and content mastery for newcomers (Ruiz-de-Velasco and Fix 2000).

The share of LEP school-age children also rose over the past two decades. The LEP share of students in elementary schools rose from 5 to 7 percent from 1980 to 2000, while the LEP share of secondary school children rose from 3 to 5 percent. In 2000 the share of LEP students was highest in kindergarten (10 percent) and fell progressively across the grades as LEP children learned English.

The rising numbers of LEP students coincides with NCLB implementation and the law’s mandates that students meet state standards, that classrooms be staffed with highly qualified teachers, and that parents be notified in their native languages of their children’s progress. All present challenges and carry significant resource implications for schools serving immigrant and LEP children.

School-age children of immigrants are concentrated in large states but dispersing rapidly to nontraditional receiving states. Like immigrants overall, school-age children of immigrants are highly concentrated in six states (California, New York, Texas, Florida, Illinois, and New Jersey), but their numbers are growing rapidly in many other states. In 2000 almost half (47 percent) of all elementary school–age children in California were children of immigrants. The share of children in PK to grade 5 with immigrant parents exceeded the national average (19 percent) in nine other states: Nevada, New York, Hawaii, Texas, Florida, Arizona, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New Mexico.

Nonetheless, between 1990 and 2000, the fastest increases in the number of children of immigrants were recorded in Nevada (206 percent), followed by North Carolina (153 percent), Georgia (148 percent), and Nebraska (125 percent). LEP students show similar state distribution and growth trends.

While schools in California and the other large, high-immigrant states are most likely to have large numbers of LEP and immigrant children, a widening range of schools nationwide are grappling with rapidly diversifying student bodies. In many instances, the institutional capacity to teach newcomer and non-English-speaking children may be more limited in new immigrant destinations than in traditional gateway communities that can draw on networks of bilingual and ESL teachers, curricula, and other resources. While it can be assumed that schools in both the high-immigrant and new-destination states are incurring significant costs in educating immigrants’ children, there are few consistent, broadly accepted data on the level of those costs or the cost-effectiveness of differing language acquisition programs.

Most children of immigrants are native-born, but the foreign-born share is higher in secondary school than in elementary or preschool. Overall, three-quarters of school-age children of immigrants were born in the United States. The share of children of immigrants who are foreign-born is lowest in pre-kindergarten (one in eight) and highest in grades 6–12 (one in three). The reason for this pattern is straightforward: older children have lived longer and therefore have had more opportunity to enter the United States. Compared with elementary schools, secondary schools have more foreign-born children, including those who arrived recently. Late-entering foreign-born students may have difficulty learning English, mastering academic subjects, and graduating in the limited time they are in U.S. schools. Immigrants who become discouraged by these difficulties may be inclined to drop out of school.

Most LEP students in elementary and secondary schools were born and raised in the United States, and many have U.S.-born parents. This means most LEP students began kindergarten limited English proficient. The fact that over half (56 percent) of LEP children in secondary schools are U.S.-born makes it clear that many children are not learning English even after seven or more years in school. A substantial share (15 percent) of LEP children of natives has parents born in Puerto Rico, a Spanishspeaking U.S. territory, while many others grew up in Spanish-speaking Mexican-origin communities in the Southwest. The large numbers of native-born LEP students across the grades strongly reinforce the logic of NCLB and other reforms that hold schools accountable for the performance of these students.

Most LEP children live in linguistically isolated families and attend linguistically segregated schools. In 2000 about six in seven LEP students at the elementary level lived in linguistically isolated households (those where everyone over age 14 was LEP). High levels of linguistic isolation point up the twin challenges of teaching LEP students and involving limited English-speaking families in their children’s education. Linguistic isolation may also partially explain why such large shares of LEP students in elementary and secondary schools are U.S.-born.

LEP students are highly concentrated in the same schools as other LEPs, in part because of ongoing residential segregation by race, ethnicity, and income. In 1999 over half (53 percent) of LEP children attended schools where more than 30 percent of all students were LEP. By contrast, 57 percent of non-LEP students went to schools where less than 1 percent of the students were LEP. The schools with high shares of LEP students face multiple challenges trying meet NCLB standards as they are predominantly urban, enroll large numbers of low-income minority students, and have less experienced principals and teachers than schools that enroll few or no LEPs (Cosentino de Cohen et al. 2005).

Children of immigrants often fall into several of NCLB’s protected groups of students. As a result, schools enrolling large numbers of these children are disproportionately missing the law’s performance targets. The NCLB Act mandates that schools disaggregate assessment results for students in several protected groups: those who are LEP, black, Hispanic, Asian, low-income, and in special education programs.

There is considerable overlap between children of immigrants and the protected groups listed by NCLB. In 2000 over half (53 percent) of children of immigrants in elementary schools were Hispanic, and 18 percent were Asian. Nearly three-quarters (71 percent) of all LEP children in elementary school were Hispanic, and another 14 percent were Asian. Half of children of immigrants and two-thirds of LEP children were low income.

Since many children of immigrants fall into more than one of the protected groups—especially Latino or Asian, LEP, and low-income—the schools that serve them generally have to meet performance targets for multiple disaggregated groups, and as a consequence are more likely to miss these targets. The compliance challenges presented by the overlapping of these groups beg some important questions. Should alternate, and perhaps more flexible, approaches to measuring the progress of LEP students be adopted (such as measuring individual progress in English acquisition and academic achievement over time)? And should funding formulas include a supplement for schools that enroll multiple protected groups above and beyond those that are currently provided? Answering questions such as these may help NCLB succeed in high-LEP schools, which are among the schools where the law’s accountability provisions are most needed.

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