The impact of refugees on local children

Following an earthquake in Haiti in 2010, more than 4,000 refugee children entered Florida’s school system, most of them in four school districts. What impact did their arrival have on existing students in those schools?

In an article in the Journal of Labor Economics, David Figlio and Umut Özek draw on student-level administrative data from Florida that provides detailed information on all students enrolled in a public school between 2002–3 and 2011–12. These include reading scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) and maths scores for students between grades 3 and 10 (Years 4-11), as well as a wealth of student characteristics.

Using data from the year before the earthquake, and the two years after, they found that there was a neutral to positive impact on the children already in the schools. In particular, in the spring of 2010, each percentage point increase in refugee concentration was associated with 0.6%–0.7% of a standard deviation increase in reading test scores, 0.3%–0.4% of a standard deviation increase in maths test scores, and 0.2–0.6 percentage points fewer disciplinary incidents. They found that these results — neutral or slightly positive impacts — were consistent across sub-groups of students (by age, place of birth, race/ethnicity, spoken language, and socio-economic status). The researchers caution that these results are not necessarily generalisable, since, for example, Florida has one of the most equitable school funding distributions in the US and, with a substantial existing population of Haitian immigrants, may have systems and approaches in place that helped to mitigate any potential impact on local students.

Source: Unwelcome Guests? The Effects of Refugees on the Educational Outcomes of Incumbent Students (July 2019) Journal of Labor Economics

Are immigrant children more likely to pursue STEM careers?

Findings from a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggest that immigrant children study more maths and science in high school and college, which means they are more likely to pursue STEM careers.

Marcus Rangel and Ying Shi looked at the trajectories of more than 286,000 children born outside the US, and who moved to the US before age 16, using nationally representative datasets including the 2010-2016 waves of the American Community Survey, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and the National Survey of College Graduates.

They found that among US-born children, about 20% of college students major in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). However, among those born outside the US – particularly those who moved to the US after age 10, and don’t come from English-speaking or northern-European countries where the native language is linguistically close to English – this number is much higher, with around 36% majoring in STEM subjects.

The authors suggest that older children who immigrate to the US from a country where the native language is very dissimilar to English may choose subjects that rely less on language skills and build more on skills they are relatively more comfortable with, such as maths or science. The study found that children arriving after age 10 earn approximately 20% more credits in maths-intensive courses than they do in English-intensive courses. This focus then continues throughout college, which in turn leads to pursuing a career in a STEM field.

Source: Early patterns of skill acquisition and immigrants’ specialization in STEM careers (January 2019), Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, volume 116, no. 2

Key role for schools in integrating immigrants

A new article in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence has examined the relationship between the percentage of immigrants in schools and peer violence. It found that for both immigrants and non-immigrants, high classmate support was consistently related to a lower risk of bullying victimisation and less physical fighting, regardless of immigrant school composition.

The authors used data from the 2009–2010 World Health Organization Health Behaviour in School-aged Children survey (WHO-HBSC) for a total of 51,636 adolescents from 11 countries: the UK, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, and the US.

In terms of being bullied, the analysis showed that immigrant teenagers were at a higher risk of being victimised. A higher percentage of immigrants in schools was not related to being bullied, but higher levels of school support (in particular on the individual level) were related to a lower risk of being bullied (although this was also true for non-immigrants).

The analysis also found a significant, positive relationship between immigrant school composition and bullying perpetration and physical fighting, with stronger associations for immigrants compared to non-immigrant adolescents. However, for both immigrants and non-immigrants, high classmate support was consistently related to less physical fighting regardless of immigrant school composition.
The authors conclude that schools have an important role to play in integrating immigrants into societies. They say that schools need to be aware of the relationship between immigrant school composition and peer violence, and the importance of classmate support in countering negative dynamics. They recommend using intervention programmes that relate to the existence of ethnic groups, and stress positive intergroup relations and classmate support.

Source: The Relationship Between Immigrant School Composition, Classmate Support and Involvement in Physical Fighting and Bullying among Adolescent Immigrants and Non-immigrants in 11 Countries (2016), Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

Realising the potential of immigrant students

A report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) looks at the educational achievement of immigrant children and how it can be improved, drawing on results from the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

The report shows that performance gaps between immigrant and non-immigrant pupils vary across countries, and it recognises that integrating immigrant pupil populations poses significant challenges to the quality and equity of schools in OECD countries. It suggests that by reinforcing language-learning policies, ensuring a more balanced social mix in schools, and focusing on content specific to immigrants, schools can improve the educational achievement of immigrant children. However, education policy alone is unlikely to fully address these challenges, and changes to social policy may also be necessary.

Source: PISA – Untapped skills: realising the potential of Immigrant students (2012), PISA

Do pupils whose second language is English affect native English speakers?

The percentage of primary school children in England who do not speak English as their first language has risen by a third to 12% over the last 10 years. This has led to concern from some that it could be having a negative impact on native English speakers’ achievement because teachers’ time would be taken up helping pupils whose second language is English. However, according to a study from the Centre for the Economics of Education, this concern is unnecessary.

The research used data from the National Pupil Database to explore the correlation between the proportion of non-native English speakers in a year group and educational attainment of native English speakers at the end of primary school. A second approach looked specifically at evidence from Catholic schools attended by the children of Polish immigrants. The results of both approaches suggest that there were no negative effects of pupils whose second language is English on the educational attainment of native English speakers.

Source: Non-native speakers of English in the classroom: What are the effects on pupil performance? (2012), Centre for the Economics of Education