Immigrant children are the country’s fastest-growing group but their future and their ability to assimilate is in jeopardy unless something is done to improve their educational achievement, according to a new policy brief released by the Brookings Institute.
In its report, the independent think tank specifically calls the educational lag of Latino kids—who make up a quarter of school-age children in the U.S. and 5 million of whom have at least one undocumented parent—one of the biggest domestic problems facing the country.
Citing other research findings, the report says that while immigrant kids of Asian and black Caribbean origin tend to do well in the U.S., Mexican children tend to struggle more with educational achievement, legal status, health, living arrangements and finances. Though early childhood education helps make up for poverty, the language barrier and low parental education, many immigrant kids do not have access to or come from families who can’t afford such programs.
Latin American kids are conspicuously absent in college, many times because of their legal status. There is a wide achievement gap between kids who are fluent in English and those who are not—a gap that can be closed if the kids receive proper English-language instruction by third grade. Finding ways to boost achievement and help more Latinos complete high school and attend and complete college or other postsecondary training should be high on the nation’s policy agenda.
Immigrant kids arrive as part of families who tend to have strong work ethic and family values, but that changes by the second generation, the report says. That’s when work rates and wages decline and single motherhood and divorces rise. “These social and economic trends bode ill for immigrant parents, their children, and the nation,” write the report’s authors. “Finding ways to boost achievement and help more Latinos complete high school and attend and complete college or other postsecondary training should be high on the nation’s policy agenda.”
The report recommended three ways to tackle the problem: Expand pre-school education, improve English-language instruction, and pass the DREAM Act, which would allow kids brought into the country by their undocumented parents to stay as long as they attend college or military service.
“Combined,” says the brief, “these three policies would bolster the human capital of young immigrants…and could produce a demographic dividend for our aging population in the form of a larger and higher-earning workforce that contributes more to the Social Security and Medicare trust funds.”