The Immigrant Paradox

New report shows how immigrant children are thriving in schools, community

September 2, 2010  |  Media Contact: Deborah Baum |  401-863-2476
A new policy report issued by two Brown University researchers presents evidence challenging what they say is the conventional view of immigrants in the United States. It will be distributed and discussed on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010, at 5 p.m. at the Rhode Island Foundation.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Two Brown University professors are issuing a new policy report challenging what they say is the conventional view of immigrants in the United States, hoping to inform government officials, policymakers, educators, and the general public.

“The conventional view on the children of immigrants asserts that because of their social and economic environment and lower levels of assimilation, they are more at risk to fail in school and become delinquents,” according to the report, written by Evelyn Hu-DeHart and Cynthia Garcia Coll. “The conventional view is fundamentally wrong: New data and research shows that the children of immigrants do well in school and in the community. In fact, many studies show that many children of immigrants outperform their American-born peers both in school performance and in out-of-school positive behaviors.”

They call this phenomenon the “immigrant paradox.” Their report, titled The Immigrant Paradox in Children’s Education & Behavior: Evidence from New Research, will be presented and discussed on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010, at 5 p.m. at the Rhode Island Foundation, 1 Union Station, Providence. To attend, e-mail theimmigrantparadox@gmail.com or call 401-863-3446.

In March 2009, Brown University hosted a conference where scholars, educators, and policymakers came together to share data from a variety of new studies on the children of immigrants and the children of American-born second and third-plus generation. The research explored the immigrant paradox across all stages of child development, various ethnic and racial backgrounds, and numerous communities.

Key findings include:

  • first-generation immigrant adolescents exhibit lower levels of juvenile delinquency and risk behaviors than second or third-plus generation children;
  • some first-generation immigrant children are outperforming second and third-plus generation children in standardized test scores;
  • first-generation immigrant children have positive attitudes towards school and teachers;
  • first-generation immigrant children often start behind American-born children in school, but they catch up quickly and have high rates of learning growth.

“These are very unusual findings,” said Garcia Coll, the Robinson and Barstow Professor of Education, Psychology and Pediatrics at Brown. “In a time where immigrants are seen as detriments to our society and not making contributions, what this research is telling us is that the first generations come in with amazing energy and amazing capabilities of surmounting lack of education in parents, poverty, and language differences. The tragedy is that as some kids acculturate and become American, they start doing worse.”

Hu-DeHart and Garcia Coll say the paradox can be attributed to the strong roles played by immigrant families and communities, both of which place a big emphasis on education. They are presenting the research in a briefing booklet so that policymakers and educators can implement strategies to promote and nurture those family relationships and community cohesion.

“Political leaders are concerned about the economic effects of immigrant children to their budgets and the social effects to their communities,” the report concludes. “The conventional view may be wrong, but it is strong and widely held. It is our responsibility and duty to these children who will be the future leaders of our country to provide them with an educational environment that fosters learning and to support them in their quest to overcome the challenges of poverty, foreignness, and social exclusion.”

“What I like about this project is that sometimes we scholars forget about disseminating research. Not only about disseminating to other scholars, but disseminating it to the public and to practicioners and policymakers and in this case, psychologists and especially to teachers and educators, so they can make use of our research in the way that they know best,” said Hu-DeHart, professor of history and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America at Brown.

The Immigrant Paradox in Children’s Education and Behavior: Evidence from New Research is sponsored by the Center for the Study of Human Development, the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, and the Department of Education at Brown University. The report was made possible through funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the College Board, Wayland Collegium-Brown University, the Center for Study of Human Development-Brown University, and the William T. Grant Foundation.

Editors: Brown University has a fiber link television studio available for domestic and international live and taped interviews, and maintains an ISDN line for radio interviews. For more information, call (401) 863-2476.