Education is a fundamental part of immigrant integration for New Americans and their children. Addressing the needs of immigrant communities also presents challenges to an already-struggling education system. With the numbers of English learners in educational institutions increasing, and a persistent achievement gap for many immigrant and ethnic minority students, educational policies must address the linguistic, cultural, and socioeconomic challenges facing our youngest New Americans.
We can prioritize quality education for New Americans and their families by:
2014 marked the first time in our nation’s history that the majority of students enrolled in public schools were students of color and/or New Americans. Yet around the country, many school systems continue to struggle to successfully support and integrate immigrant children and families and build on the important strengths they bring to their classrooms and communities. More than one in four children under age 6 lives in a household that speaks a language other than English. And over 61 percent of children in immigrant families live below 200 percent of the U.S. poverty line. Older immigrant and refugee youth who enter after interrupted schooling, or without previous schooling, require extra support to catch up. Our education system is taxed and education policy fails to support our most at-risk students, including English learners.
We must address this. Education can serve as a locus of integration for an entire immigrant family, enabling immigrant parents to connect with community resources such as language and literacy learning opportunities and receive encouragement to become involved in a child’s education. These resources would increase community and civic participation, confidence and opportunities to practice English. Schools can be trusted community institutions that pave the way for integration.
Early learning programs have been shown to improve long term outcomes for New American children. Research has shown that early childhood education can positively influence cognitive skills, academic achievement, educational attainment and social behavior. Quality early learning programs bridge gaps in school readiness, and are often the first point of contact for immigrant parents and families with public institutions. Yet, data suggests that dual language learners and children of immigrants are significantly less likely than other children to participate in early education programs.
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