Urban schools struggle to educate and assimilate immigrant students — especially those who arrive in their teens, write Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco and Carola Suárez-Orozco, a dean and professor at UCLA.
In 1997, they began a study of newly arrived immigrants, ages 9 to 14, in 20 public middle and high schools in Boston, Cambridge, Mass., and the San Francisco Bay Area. Many were fleeing violence and living in high-crime neighborhoods in the U.S. Asked “what do you like most about being here?” an 11-year-old Haitian boy in Cambridge said, “There is less killing here.”
The Chechen brothers accused in the Boston bombings were 16 and 9 when they started school in Cambridge. They were not in the study, but they fit the demographic profile.
Many newcomer students attend tough urban schools that lack solidarity and cohesion. In too many we found no sense of shared purpose, but rather a student body divided by race and ethnicity, between immigrants and the native born, between newcomers and more acculturated immigrants. Only 6 percent of the participants could name a teacher as someone they would go to with a problem; just 3 percent could identify a teacher who was proud of them.
. . . many educators, already overwhelmed by the challenges of inner-city teaching, considered immigrant parents uninformed and uninvolved.
Immigrant students who made a friend who spoke English fluently did significantly better in school, they write. But many didn’t interact with native-born students, much less make friends.
Students who did well academically “tended to be enrolled in supportive schools, to have caring teachers, and to develop informal mentorships with coaches, counselors or ministers.”
Catering to “difference” is a mistake, responds Stanley Kurtz in National Review Online. He cites a study by John Fonte and Althea Nagai, America’s Patriotic Assimilation System is Broken, which found a “patriotic gap” between native-born and naturalized citizens. For example, “by roughly 31 points (81% to 50%), the native-born are more likely than immigrant citizens to believe that schools should focus on American citizenship rather than ethnic pride.”
Schools “riven by racial and ethnic divisions and a lack of common purpose” should affirm “the shared American identity that used to unite this country,” Kurtz concludes.