What Happens to Children When a Parent Gets Deported?

In recent weeks, we’ve noted studies that show lower education levels and higher stress levels for the children of undocumented immigrants. This Huffington Post column points out one of the possible reasons behind those hurdles: a record number of deportations by the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). According to statistics released this week, 396,906 immigrants were deported in the past year.

In the Huffington Post column, Joshua Hoyt, the director of  the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, posits that the deportations are not only affecting those sent back to their home countries, but also the children who may be left behind:

“What does this very large number of 396,906 mean for families and U.S. citizen children? Let us assume that at least two-thirds of the deportees are married, with an average of 2.5 children. Thus, from the perspective of ICIRR, the impact of this year’s accomplishments by ICE is that 654,895 children — most of them U.S. citizens — have lost a parent during just the past year due to deportation.”

Even if Hoyt’s contention is way off numerically, it still raises the question of what happens to children whose parents are deported? What effect does such a family rupture have on their school performance, behavior, and chances of going on to college? Are school counselors and teachers creating mechanisms to deal with children in that situation?

Education Levels Lag for Children of Undocumented Immigrants

Pressure to work, high stress levels and lack of money for academic enrichment may contribute to lower education levels for the children of undocumented immigrants, a new study has found.

According to this Los Angeles Times article, the study found that a majority of  children of undocumented immigrants from Mexico did not graduate high school and completed only 11 years of school — two less than peers whose parents are here legally. However, after the immigrants legalized their status, education levels went up, researchers found.

The study is based on data from a 2004 survey of 4,780 adult children of immigrants in the L.A. area. Of those surveyed, 1,350 were children of Mexican immigrants; 45 percent had undocumented parents, the L.A. Times noted.

Researchers contend that the results not only underscore the obstacles facing the children of undocumented immigrants but also show the need for immigration reform.

“By not providing pathways to legalization, the United States not only risks creating an underclass, but also fails to develop a potentially valuable human resource,” the report said.

Researchers also found that a mother’s immigration status may exert a larger influence than a father’s. As the L.A. Times story noted, “Children whose mothers were legal residents but whose fathers weren’t completed about 12 1/2 years of education. If the father was legal and the mother wasn’t, the children finished about 11 years of school.”

This study comes on the heels of a Harvard Educational Review study featured last month in the Latino Ed Beat. That study noted that children of undocumented immigrants are “at risk of lower educational performance, economic stagnation, blocked mobility and ambiguous belonging” because of the family’s immigration status.

There are about 3.8 million children with undocumented parents living in the U.S. About 80 percent are the children are born in the United States.

As these studies and the reaction to the Alabama immigration law show, children with immigrant parents should be an integral part of education coverage. Drop-out rates, school policies, outreach programs, attendance numbers, college attendance rates and other core education concerns are all tied into immigration-related  issues.

Can Music Education Boost Latino Academic Success?

A new initiative launched by a group of  community, arts and education leaders in Austin, Texas is taking a different approach to tackling the Latino achievement gap.

The nonprofit Hispanic Alliance for the Performing Arts, seeking to increase Latino participation in the arts, is starting a local version of El Sistema, a music education program that emphasizes training in orchestral music for children. According to this story in the Austin American-Statesman, “the group came together after leaders noted that Hispanic participation in the arts has not kept pace with the population growth.”

The El Sistema program, a rigorous music training program first founded 30 years ago in Venezuela, has launched in dozens of cities around the U.S. already. Its website describes the program as a “visionary global movement that transforms the lives of children through music.” Gustavo Dudamel, music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic is a graduate of the program.

The Statesman article notes that a National Endowment for the Arts study found that only about one-third of adult Latinos attend arts events, compared with more than half of adult whites.  Only 3.8 percent of adult Latinos attended a classical music event, compared with 11.3 percent of the Anglo whites.

The group hopes to reduce the Latino dropout rate through  its efforts, citing a connection between student achievement and music education. The Austin American-Statesman article refers to a 2006 National Association for Music Education study that showed schools with music programs have  higher graduation rates than those without music programs.

If there is an El Sistema program or similar music training program for Latinos in your area, it would be worth looking at their success rates. Do their students perform better in academic areas? Have they made a dent in dropout rates?

What about music and other arts programs offered in schools? Are Latino students represented in music classes, band, choir, theater, and other arts activities? If so, how do those students compare to those who are not involved in arts training? If not, what accounts for the lack of representation? Have recent school budget cuts affected those programs?

Keeping Kids at the Heart of Education Stories

It can be tough to be an education reporter. School board meetings drag on for hours. School officials and teachers often deflect questions and talk only through district spokespeople. Education policies are densely written and everchanging. Researchers produce reams of data analysis, which you have to dissect and comprehend on deadline.

But the beat also offers a chance to get inside the world of kids in a way no other beat does. In the end, the best school reporting — like the best teaching — is student-centered. The most memorable stories I’ve done or read delve into the lives of children, or examine education and social issues through the prism of their eyes.

This Los Angeles Times column by Bill Plaschke (a sports columnist, not an education writer) is a wonderful example of that type of coverage. Plaschke tells a nuanced, heartbreaking story of a Latino high school football player’s failed attempt to save the life of a classmate.

The player, Jorge Garcia, was the only student who tried to help Cindi Santana when she was attacked in the school courtyard, allegedly by a former boyfriend. Santana later died from her stab wounds. Now, Garcia, who was also injured, is coping with the fallout.

“People say I did a great thing, but I take no pride in it … I keep thinking over and over again, could I have done more?” he told Plaschke.

The column refrains from painting Garcia as a perfect hero, or simplifying the world in which he lives. It touches on issues seen in almost every high school around the country — teen domestic violence, bullying, struggling students who find their way through sports, and the rocky road of adolescence — with nary a statistic or think tank report.

More Minority Students Often Means Less Pay for Teachers

No one goes in to teaching to make money, but school districts that can offer better salaries usually attract — and retain — better teachers. So it’s critical to take note of new data showing that teachers in school districts with more minority students are paid less than the average teacher in otherwise comparable districts.

The data, released by the U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights division, is based on a survey of nearly 7,000 school districts in the 2009-2010 OCR’s Civil Rights Data Collection. The schools surveyed have between 20 percent to 80 percent Latino and African-American enrollment.

According to the survey, 59 percent of  districts nationwide paid about $2,500 per year less to teachers in schools serving more Latino and African-American students than to teachers in schools with lower percentages of students of color. The gap offers some insight into how money is spent by school districts, which allocate most of their budgets to teacher salaries.

In a statement issued with the data release, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan noted,“America has been battling inequity in education for decades but these data show that we cannot let up. Children who need the most too often get the least. It’s a civil rights issue, an economic security issue and a moral issue.”

The new data also offer a good opportunity to look at the connections between teacher salary and teacher quality along with the connections between teacher quality and student achievement. One possible story angle would be to compare the average teacher salaries in higher-minority enrollment schools in your districts with schools that have lower percentages. Do they reflect the OCR’s findings? If so, do students in schools where teachers are paid less also produce lower scores on standardized tests?

Another area to explore is teacher turnover. Do higher-minority enrollment schools see a constantly revolving roster of teachers? If so, what effect does that appear to have on classroom learning?

The salary analysis is contained in the second half of a data collection being released by the OCR in two parts. The first, released in June, looked at enrollment, teacher experience, and access to advanced classes. The second part, which will be issued later this fall, will look at SAT and ACT-testing, teacher absences, school discipline and bullying.

Exploring the ‘Immigrant Paradox’: Q & A with Cynthia Garcia Coll

For more than a century, assimilation into American culture has been held up as a positive goal for immigrants to pursue. But a just-released book that highlights research on first-generation immigrant children and adolescents, including Latinos, shows that recent immigrant children are more likely to succeed in school and avoid risky behaviors than their more-assimilated peers. The title says it all: The Immigrant Paradox in Children and Adolescents: Is Becoming American a Developmental Risk?
I recently had the opportunity to chat via email with one of the co-authors, Cynthia Garcia Coll, who is the Robinson and Barstow Professor of Education, Psychology and Pediatrics at Brown University. Here’s what she had to say about the immigrant paradox and how it plays out among Latinos.

Your research shows that first-generation immigrant children often outperform succeeding generations academically despite the initial disadvantages they face due to poverty, low levels of parental education, and language and cultural differences. What explains this “immigrant paradox”?

Our research points to the presence of a heritage language in the home, Spanish, for example, as a protective factor for children of immigrants. In other words, children who live in household where Spanish is spoken do better than children who live in households where Spanish is not spoken. We are not certain how and why maintaining a heritage language at home serves as a protective factor, but it is clear that it does. We think that the maintenance of the home language by both children and adult family members gives the youth access to values and knowledge that protect them from influences that down play the importance of education and obeying the law. We are now proposing new research to unpackage the association between home language maintenance and more optimal developmental outcomes.

How does this paradox manifest itself among Latino immigrant communities? Are there any nuances that make the situation different for Latino versus Asian immigrants, for example?

There are very interesting similarities and differences between Latinos and Asian immigrants. In terms of behavioral outcomes, we find very similar patterns of results between Asian and Latino communities. In most outcome variables, more recent and less acculturated immigrants display less risky behaviors–delinquency, unprotected sex and substance use–than subsequent and more acculturated generations.

For academic outcomes, a very different pattern emerges. Both Asian and Latino populations, display the immigration paradox in academic attitudes: the more recent and less acculturated immigrants display more positive attitudes toward learning, schooling and teachers. The same pattern is found for Asian populations in terms of academic achievement–first generation and less acculturated individuals display more positive academic outcomes. However, this was not the case for Latinos. The positive attitudes displayed by first generation and less acculturated individuals do not translate into more positive academic outcomes for Latinos, and the question is why? We need to conduct more research to understand why positive academic attitudes do not translate to good academic outcomes for Latinos.

Your research notes the strength of family and emphasis on education present in immigrant families, yet statistics show Latino children are the least likely to attend preschool. Can you speak to this paradox from the experience of doing your research? How are Latino immigrant families managing the early care and education of their youngest children?

Latinos do emphasize the early education of their children, but not necessarily in terms of formal literacy or school readiness. They want their children to be well behaved and respectful. “Obediente, respetuoso y bien educado.” They also tend to use kin care more often than formal child care or preschool. Partly this is due to the traditional construction of childhood: We use the word  infantes/infants until 5 years of age. Jardin de Infantes refers to facilities for children up to five years of age. In this cultural construction of childhood, schooling is for six-year-olds and older.

My sense is that many Latino parents do not know the importance of early literacy and numeracy for later school achievement. If they did, enrollment in Head Start and other subsidized programs would increase dramatically. They also do not know how to ascertain the quality of center based programs and might choose home daycare for issues of familiarity and safety.

How can early educators and policymakers better capitalize on the strengths of first-generation children and families?

We should definitely capitalize in how immigrant families for the most part hold on to the American Dream. Hard work and obtaining high levels of formal education is seen by many of these families as their children’s  ticket out of poverty. They might not be able to read widely or help their children because of lack of language fluency or formal knowledge, but they will support their children in any other way they can.  Involving parents in their kids education as soon as possible, by having visiting hours, extracurricular activities, etc. is very important. Teaching families about  the connections between early literacy and numeracy and self-regulation to success in formal education is imperative. Similarly, teaching parents English or useful job skills that will lead to employment will support these families in the endeavor of raising healthy and educated adults.

What happens when those first-generation immigrants become parents themselves? What changes for their children? What aspects of assimilation appear to be most detrimental to their children’s educational success?

We know very little about how acculturation affects parenting. We know that subsequent generations lose the heritage language by the second or the third generation. This is accompanied by a lack of familiarity with the heritage culture and increasing adoption of American values, such as autonomy, distance from parents, and consumerism among others. We speculate that as parents and children move from believing in the American Dream, they get discouraged and their ambitions diminish. We know that immigrants do not invoke racism and discrimination much, even though by 4th grade children of immigrants perceive it in the school context.  Later generations see the injustices in the system from the perspective of being considered a minority, and thus it is harder for them to surmount these perceived obstacles and challenges.

Are there issues that arise in the early years (birth to age eight) that are clearly different for first-gen vs. later-gen immigrants and that show the effects of assimilation into U.S. culture?

Even if first generation children have more linguistic challenges at school entry, it has been found that they catch up by showing a more accelerated growth curve in school. Moreover, if they become bilingual, bilingualism has been shown to have many cognitive advantages and thus they stand a better chance to do well in cognitive tasks.

What lessons might assimilated U.S. parents and educators take from the first-generation families you studied?

Biculturalism might be an asset for all Americans. It is done by these vulnerable families, and thus it might be possible for it to be an advantage for all Americans. Learning a second language early is actually advantageous for kids. Grounding your family in a secondary, non-mainstream culture might be good for both education and reduction of risky behaviors.

In Miami, a Closer Look at One Charter School

Charter schools are often touted as the great hope for public education. President Obama has called for the expansion of charter schools, and a bill under consideration that would rewrite No Child Left Behind possibly could increase the number of charter schools, which are funded by taxpayer money but run independently.

For many low-income and minority families, charter schools are seen as the best opportunity for a better education. (Just think of the countless stories of parents camping out at charter school lotteries just for a chance at admission.) According to the Annual Survey of America’s Charter Schools, about 49 percent of charter schools serve a free/reduced lunch population of more than 60 percent and about 43 percent serve a minority population of more than 60 percent.

But are charter schools living up to their potential?

A Miami Herald investigation found that the operators of one Dade County charter school, the Academy of Arts and Minds, may have used several questionable —  possibly illegal — practices, including charging students for basic classes such as English, social studies and math. The classes are supposed to be provided free of charge.

Parents have also raised questions about the school founder’s financial ties with the school. According to the Herald story, Manuel Alonso-Poch is “the school’s landlord, its spokesman, its food-service provider, its most generous donor and — thanks to a recent $90,000-a-year no-bid contract — its financial manager.”

The Miami New Times also looked at the troubles plaguing the Academy of Arts and Minds in this June 9, 2011 piece.

Both pieces are good reminders that stories about charter schools, which draw significant numbers of Latino students, should not be limited to profiles of successes. There are also stories to be told about how the schools are financed, where the funding goes, how the schools are run, and what the curriculum includes.

In addition, many charter schools do not require that teachers be certified, only that they can be considered “highly qualified.” What does that mean in terms of who is teaching and what is being taught?

Is there a parent board for the charter schools in your area? It would pay off to cultivate sources among the parents, who might be the first people to spot possible problems.

Latino Preschoolers on the Rise in Central Illinois

Lots of headlines have already been written about  the new census data showing Latino population growth in Illinois. Many, like this Daily Herald piece, focus on the growth in Chicago’s suburbs and its possible political consequences. While much of the gain is concentrated in the suburbs of Chicago–and that also has brought changes to hundreds of school districts–Illinois schools beyond the metro area are also encountering Latino students, some for the first time.

Take, for example, the tiny Mahomet-Seymour District in the middle of the state, not too far from Champaign and the University of Illinois. Mahomet-Seymour serves about 3,000 students and includes one high school, one junior high and three elementary schools, one of which, Middletown Early Childhood Center, serves only children in pre-K and kindergarten. Last week I spoke with Principal Carol Shallenberger about her school’s recent experience with Latino preschoolers.

Shallenberger says it’s only been in the past few years that  Middletown has seen an influx of non-English speakers in its student body. Though Spanish is most frequently spoken, her school has had a few speakers of Russian, Polish and Tagalog as well. This year, Middletown has eight Spanish-speakers. “Most of them are coming in speaking just Spanish. Most of them are in a pre-K, at-risk program that meets for five half-days per week. Shallenberger says this year’s Latino preschoolers were placed in two of the three pre-K classrooms to ensure a critical mass of same-language peers. Their school day is “full-immersion English. We don’t have any staff who speak Spanish fluently,” she says, though some of the teachers have labeled classroom objects in both languages and everyone who works with Spanish-speaking children tries to use as much Spanish as possible.

Communicating with families, most of whom speak little English, has been challenging for these educators. A retired high school teacher has come in to help translate forms and act as a liaison with parents. A couple of children came from Champaign’s Head Start program, and their family advocates helped with the transition and its accompanying paperwork.

Middletown’s kindergarten is half-day for all students (this is not uncommon in Illinois due to funding issues). Shallenberger says this year they have one Latino student who attends both sessions to increase his exposure to English. Though the child has two different teachers, the content is similar and the full day offers a chance to hear the same ideas repeated in English twice.

Shallenberger says it’s too early to tell how well her youngsters are faring academically–they have yet to track graduates’ progress in the early elementary grades. As she sees it on the ground, “They’re interacting with all of the kids. All the kids are interacting with them. Socially, they’re adapting, learning those routines, taking on the language.”

When a child does need extra help, the teachers call in experts to assist. “We had to bring in a bilingual speech therapist to do an assessment on a child in both native language and English,” she recalls.

In the future, Shallenberger is looking to grow her own in-house capacity, especially given Illinois’ recent decision to require any school with more than 20 English-language learners who speak the same language to offer a transitional bilingual program in that language.  The new requirements go into effect in 2014, but it’s already on her radar screen. “We’re watching our numbers carefully,” to see whether Middletown’s rising numbers of ELLs will meet the threshold. “We are expecting to see our numbers grow.” Last summer Shallenberger tried to hire a new teacher with bilingual certification–though non of the candidates who applied had it, all said they were willing to earn the credential, so the new hire will pursue it.

LA, NYC Schools Fall Short in ELL Programs

The quandary of how best to teach English Language Learners continues to make headlines from one coast to another. This week, both the Los Angeles Unified School District and the New York City school district — the country’s two largest systems — were taken to task for failing to meet the needs of students learning English.

In Los Angeles, school officials agreed to make major changes in the way English Language Learners are taught. The agreement is part of a settlement in the Obama administration’s first Department of Education civil rights investigation. ELL’s make up almost one-third — or 195,000 — of the LAUSD student body, the biggest number of  any district in the country.

According to this story in the L.A. Times, the settlement will require school officials to:

“focus on the academic progress of students judged to have adequately learned English. Many of these students subsequently flounder academically. The district will also concentrate efforts on students who have reached high school without mastering the English skills necessary to enroll in a college-preparatory curriculum and who may be at risk of dropping out.”

In New York City, state officials accused the city school system of failing to adequately serve ELL’s and threatened school officials with sanctions if they did not improve services.  In 2010, only 7 percent of ELL students graduated on time, only 12 percent of lower grad ELL’s were proficient in English and 35 percent were proficient in math, state officials said.

The state also found that ELL’s were not getting tested in a timely manner, not receiving services to which they were entitled, and parents were not being given the choice of bilingual or English-only instruction for their children.

The state first directed city officials to improve services more than a year ago, but an improvement plan was only released this week, according to this New York Times story.

Under the plan, the city promises to start new bilingual programs, improve monitoring, hire more bilingual teachers and provide more training.

These issues are not limited just to Los Angeles and New York City. School districts across the country are facing an increase in the number of children who need help learning English. Yet, many districts fall short of the mission, either due to budget constraints, poor oversight, outdated policies, etc.

As this Washington Post item points out, the number of ELL’s in public school has soared 51 percent over the last decade, to about5.3 million in 2008-09.

Keeping an eye on ELL services and programs offered by school district should be at the top of every education reporter’s story list. Parent groups and advocacy groups are good sources of information. Local colleges — which are tasked with offering remedial classes to students who graduate from high school without basic skills — can also give you a good sense of whether schools are falling short.

Minority Teachers Could Help Close the Performance Gap

Could hiring more minority teachers help reduce the performance gap? A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that might be the case.

According to this Washington Post article, the researchers found that minority students in community colleges did better when taught by minority instructors of similar race or ethnicity. According to the working paper, black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American students at De Anza College in California who had minority instructors were 2.9 percent more likely to pass courses.

The higher success rate was due in part to what researchers dubbed “the role-model effect,” which appears to cause minority students to react more favorably to a minority instructor.

This might be particularly relevant for students in K-12 because the researchers found that younger students were more influenced by the “role-model effect.”

The number of minority teachers in the country remains low. According to the National Center for Education Information, only 16 percent of K-12 teachers are non-white and only 6 percent are Latino.