July 15, 2013
Paradox Less Consistent in Young Children, Study Finds
Lesli A. Maxwell
new study that takes a fresh look at the educational outcomes
for children of immigrants presents a different take on the
so-called immigrant paradox in education.
older children of immigrants-we're talking high school students-tend
to perform better in school than might be expected, or even
outperform their U.S.-born peers, younger children of immigrants
display much more uneven patterns of academic success, a new
study from the Migration Policy Institute concludes. The skills
that students need to succeed in kindergarten and to get off
to a solid academic start often lag in the children of immigrants,
especially those whose parents migrated from Mexico and other
parts of Latin America.
by Robert Crosnoe, a sociologist at the University of Texas
at Austin, the study argues that the immigrant paradox holds
up better for some age ranges than others and that the popular
understanding of the phenomenon may actually lead to educators,
unintentionally, not providing the supports that children from
immigrant families need to be successful in school. Most of
the research done on the educational outcomes of immigrant children
has focused on older students, largely because that's where
the most data can be found.
focuses on early-learning data available from the Early Childhood
Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort-which collected extensive information
from a nationally representative sample of more than 10,000
children from birth to school entry-and presents composite scores
of children on standardized cognitive assessments in reading
and mathematics skills, broken down by their race/ethnicity
and parents' origins. The children in the data set took the
assessments at age 4 and again in kindergarten.
the exception of children of foreign-born blacks-who consistently
scored above black peers of U.S. born parents at both stages-other
children of immigrants showed less-consistent patterns. (Other
researchers have delved more deeply into the strong performance
of young children of black immigrants.)
Latinos, the children of foreign-born parents scored five points
lower overall than their peers who had U.S. born parents as
4-year-olds, a gap that widened slightly at the start of formal
schooling. For whites, immigrant children did better than their
native peers as 4-year-olds, but then the pattern switched once
the children reached elementary school. For Asians, children
of native-born parents did somewhat better on the preschool
assessment, but by early elementary school, the paradox had
emerged, with Asian children of foreign-born parents performing
While children of Mexican immigrants tend to struggle more on
academic indicators, they demonstrate strong social-emotional
skills that are attributed, in large measure, to the parenting
of Mexican mothers.
address the weaker immigrant paradox patterns in the earliest
years of schooling, Crosnoe recommends three main policy interventions.
first, not surprisingly, is expanding access to quality prekindergarten
programs for the children of immigrants, who are much less likely
than children of U.S.-born parents to get a formal preschool
education. The second is broadening access to affordable, preventative
health care since children of immigrants tend to be more predisposed
to developing childhood illnesses that interfere with learning.
Finally, he calls for building family-school partnerships to
bring more immigrant parents into the fold by providing resources
in their native languages and helping them build "home
learning" environments that emphasize parents' roles as
their child's teachers.