University News

Profs. present ‘the immigrant paradox’

By
Contributing Writer
Monday, September 20, 2010

New research shows that immigrant children are performing well both in school and in the community — a phenomenon coined the “Immigrant Paradox” by Professor of Education Cynthia Garcia Coll.

Garcia Coll teamed up with Professor of History Evelyn Hu-DeHart from the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America to report these findings in “The Immigrant Paradox in Children’s Education and Behavior: Evidence from New Research.” Garcia Coll and Hu-DeHart also presented their findings at the Rhode Island Foundation on Sept. 16.

In their report, the professors stated that their goal is to change how immigrant children are viewed. They said they hope that these new data will incite policymakers and educators to provide these children with the support they need to successfully integrate into American society.

The findings of this report were compiled from several studies at a conference held at Brown last spring. The conference looked at first-, second- and third-generation immigrants, focusing on Hispanic and Asian children.

The researchers found that first-generation immigrant children are outperforming the more acculturated second- and third-generation children academically and behaviorally. The study shows that although first-generation immigrant children are often behind American-born peers in school, they catch up or even surpass them by the late-elementary years. First-generation children also have better attitudes toward school than second- and third-generation children, which has manifested in higher standardized test scores and GPAs for some groups. They also demonstrated lower levels of delinquency and involvement in risk behaviors.

Both Garcia Coll and Hu-DeHart attribute this drop-off in performance of later generations to Americanization. By the second immigrant generation, children have often lost their family’s language and culture. Garcia Coll said she believes that these language and cultural ties are important because they “maintain connections with family, which serves as a buffer to influences of American culture.”

Garcia Coll said that immigrant children are pressured to assimilate quickly, which requires them to learn English, thereby creating both a generation and language gap between the children and their parents, who do not acculturate as quickly. Garcia Coll said she has observed that Asian and Hispanic parents value education above all else and often have high moral standards. She sees a major need for ESL programs to teach these parents English so that they can communicate these values to their children.

Garcia Coll is currently working with President Ruth Simmons to start a program in an existing preschool that serves both immigrant children and their mothers.

Brown students, who made up the majority of the audience at the presentation on Thursday, can help to foster the love of learning found in immigrant children by volunteering in schools and teaching English as a second language, the professors said.

Hu-DeHart said she hopes this research will give the Providence community “a newfound understanding and respect for Brown” because it demonstrates that Brown cares about community issues such as education. She said she also hopes the research will incite educators and policymakers to change their attitudes toward immigrant children.