Schools can’t assimilate immigrants

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.

About Joanne


  1. Florida resident says:

    Great Charles Murray:
    From there:
    “Study after study shows that the earlier a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road,” said U.S. President Barack Obama in Feb. 14 speech in Decatur, Georgia. “Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on — boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, reducing violent crime.”
    Obama wants to help our nation’s children flourish. So do I. So does everyone who is aware of the large number of children who are not flourishing. There are just two problems with his solution: The evidence used to support the positive long-term effects of early childhood education is tenuous, even for the most intensive interventions. And for the kind of intervention that can be implemented on a national scale, the evidence is zero.

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    So what are the pub schools teaching? Celebrating ethnic differences, even facilitating resentment (AZ), teaching from the School of Zinn, opposing assimilation as some kind of old white guys’ cultural genocide.

    • Florida resident says:

      Dear R.A.:
      I agree with your comment.
      However, for my two kids,
      public schools here in Florida were OK.

  3. IIRC, a major impetus for the establishment of widespread public schools was to assimilate the large wave of immigrants arriving in American cities from the mid-late 19th century. I believe that the term “Americanize” was specifically used and the melting pot meant sharing a common loyalty and culture.

  4. North of 49th says:

    Canada, on the other hand, has been very successful in educating and assimilating immigrant children. A 2011 OECD report ( states:

    “One of the most striking things about the Canadian results is their success with immigrant children. By some
    estimates, Canada has the highest rates of immigration per capita in the world. …Canada is also one of very few countries where there is no gap between its immigrant and native students on the PiSA.. .Finally, Canada is one of the few countries where there is no difference in performance between students who do not speak the language of instruction at home and those who do…Why has Canada done so well at educating its immigrant students?..Canada was one of only a few countries in which immigrant students had access to equal or greater resources than native-born students…Second, Canadian multiculturalism provides a distinct philosophy that seeks to both respect the importance of native cultures while also incorporating immigrants into a distinctively Canadian identity…third, in some of the provinces that have had the largest influx of immigrants, an explicit policy has sought
    to support the success of these students.”

    A commitment to supporting immigrant children goes back many decades now, to the early 1950’s. Our immigrant kids are slightly morel likely than native-born Canadians to graduate from university, and this is irrespective of race, income or parental level of education. We do provide supports in school for families and parents, as well as students, and booster programs for students who enter in middle or high school with little or no previous schooling.

    My own school is 95% immigrant, 1% white and 1% Asian, with many nationalities and languages represented, but we are a high-achieving school despite being one where family incomes are low and no students are middle class. We have had pre-K for children aged 3 1/2 to 5 for decades and this is definitely a factor that has made a big difference for our immigrant kids. We are now extending it to full day which should help our immigrant kids even more.

    While it may not work in the USA, pre-K works for us, even (maybe especially) with children of poverty and non-white, non-Asian kids. It’s hard to figure why our students outperform American kids so significantly when our cultures and school organizations seem superficially similar. But they do; we had to get most of the major achievement tests re-normed because our kids scored way too high on those based on American norms.

    • Florida resident says:

      Dear North of 49th:
      Can you advise Canadian analog of
      ? You go to particular school of interest, look at the
      “student statistics”, e.g. the one in recent news:
      and you see all you need to know.
      Your F.r.

    • Googling around, I find that the countries providing the most immigrants to Canada are China, the Phillipines, and India. Likewise, it isn’t hard to discover that the source of most immigrants to the USA is Mexico. Now compare the PISA results for China and Mexico.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      “It’s hard to figure why our students outperform American kids so significantly when our cultures and school organizations seem superficially similar.”


      The document you cited says this: “until the 1970s, the majority of immigrants came from europe; over the past 40 years, most have come from asia and the developing world. in 2007, the leading source countries of canadian immigrants were china and india (about 28000 each), the Philippines (20000), and Pakistan (10000).”


      Do you think that this is what the mix of immigrants to the US looks like? The top country of origin for the US is Mexico, which accounts for about 1/3 of the (I presume) legal US immigration.


      This doesn’t explain the difference in demographically similar US students with Canadian students (e.g. Seattle compared to Vancouver), but it might have at least a little bit of relevance for comparing the immigrant population educational results and the overall results.

      • I have a close relative who teaches in an relatively affluent suburban HS, which also has a significant immigrant population. The Mexicans (and other Central Americans) often go “home” (as they describe it) for 4-8 weeks, over Christmas, and this is a situation that is county-wide (and I’m sure in other DC areas). Some don’t return to the same school. Teachers who have taught in the urban schools have told her that it’s a much more widespread problem there and the Christmas turnover of the student population much larger. I’m told that this is true of both legal and illegal immigrants. These kids (who are likely to be the weaker students) miss large chunks of academic work, while being immersed in a Spanish-only language and culture; not good for academic success. This is not true of the Asian immigrants (large numbers from China, India and elsewhere), even if they are both poor and non-English speaking. Of course, many of that group are highly educated, like our old neighbors (Korea), my sons’ HS friends (China, India), sons’ teammates (Russia, Scotland), one son’s wife (Korea) or my daughter’s teammates (China, Viet Nam) and her college roommate (Philippines); many of their parents came here as engineers, scientists and physicians.

  5. YES they CAN!!!
    Instead of promoting multiculturalism (salad bowl vs melting pot), secular humanism, moral relativism, and diversity schools should make it MANDATORY that ALL students recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of each and every morning. This is the ONE SINGLE point of commonality that we/they have irrespective of our race, religion, country of origin, citizenship status, and sexual orientation. To ensure that students AND faculty understand the MEANING of the Pledge Red Skelton’s recitation of the Pledge with explanation should be played monthly. Immediately thereafter the students stand with their right hand over their heart and recite the Pledge (the teacher TOO!!!) slowly and with feeling.

  6. We’re no longer a melting pot; we’re a toss salad. And toss salads spoil much, much faster than melting pots do…