Panel Paper: Immigrants in Public Education: A Closer Look at Cross-Generational Differences

Friday, November 7, 2014 : 1:30 PM
Laguna (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Umut Ozek, American Institutes for Research and David Figlio, Northwestern University
Immigration remains at the forefront of the policy debate in the United States. Over the last fifty years, the United States has experienced not only the second largest wave of immigration in its history, but also a considerable change in demographic composition as immigrants’ countries of origin shifted from Europe to Asia and Latin America. In 2010, 13 percent of the U.S. population was foreign born, a rate not experienced since the turn of the nineteenth century, and 91 percent of these immigrants were born in Latin America or Asia. Immigrants and children of immigrants currently account for nearly a quarter of all school-aged children in the United States, and are projected to account for one-third by 2050. How this new wave of immigrant youth fare in the U.S. public education system, therefore, has significant short-term and long-term welfare implications.

In this project, we address this question using unique student-level administrative data from Florida, in which student records are matched with birth certificate data. Florida has been one of the major destinations for the recent wave of immigration. Currently, foreign born individuals constitute one-fifth of the population in Florida, which ranks fourth in this category among states. Further, the composition of these immigrants closely resembles the new wave of immigrants nationwide: 85 percent of the current immigrant population in Florida was born in Latin America or Asia. In 2009-10 school-year, ten percent of all Florida K-12 public school students were born outside the U.S, and another quarter of Florida’s students have foreign-born parents.

Specifically, we investigate two sets of questions. First, we compare first and second-generation immigrants with their native peers along a rich set of educational outcomes including test scores, high school dropout and graduation, grade retention, course-taking behavior as well as non-cognitive outcomes such as disciplinary incidents, suspensions, mobility and truancy. We then examine the extent to which these gaps are driven by factors that are typically out of the control of school system such as socioeconomic differences and age of entry, and malleable factors such as differences in school and/or teacher quality.

Using our unique longitudinal data on students linked to their teachers, we make a number of important contributions to the existing literature. First, because we can identify both first-generation immigrants and second-generation immigrants, and their countries of origin, we can investigate cross-generational differences in educational outcomes and their possible sources. Second, because we can follow multiple cohorts of individual students over time, we are able to examine the progress of immigrant students after they enter Florida public schools. Third, the exceptionally rich information on students along with the large sample size allow us to portray a fuller picture of the challenges faced by the immigrant youth, better explore the underlying issues, and look within subgroups of interest. Understanding these challenges will provide valuable and timely information for policy-makers and the wider education policy as immigration seems destined to remain at the top of the political agenda for years to come.