Education is a key aspect of assimilation into the American mainstream. It has been long believed that America’s K-12 education has been the key for upward mobility of children of immigrants (). This was the case during the nineteenth century, as the white European immigrants were expected to “move ahead” and get “Americanized” through the public school system; which they did, as they were largely absorbed into the nation’s major social and political institutions within a couple of generations and became upwardly mobile over time” (). Although this “linear model” of assimilation was successful—largely due to educational success—for the European wave of immigrants in the nineteenth century, the model is not applicable to the current children of immigrants due to many factors such as language, stereotypes based on educational success of older generations, and socioeconomic status.
Language is an enormous factor of educational success. In the United States, it is virtually impossible to finish school without knowledge of English. Many extremely intelligent children of immigrants fail to have any success in school simply because they do not know the language. Mexican immigrants are especially notorious for poor educational attainment; only 39.8 percent of Mexican born men have a high school diploma (Batalova 2008). Not surprisingly, the vast majority of Mexican immigrants are not proficient in English, as almost 75 percent of Mexican immigrants reported speaking English less than very well (Batalova 2008). Although these statistics largely represent Mexican born adult immigrants, the mere fact that the children of these immigrants will have parents who cannot speak English can threaten to hinder their English development. Language is not the only factor that can affect educational success; the educational success of prior generations can also play a tremendous role in the educational success of current children of immigrants.
The educational success of prior generations is an extremely important determinant of the educational success of current generations for numerous reasons; especially the stereotypes developed by native citizens; society will naturally develop stereotypes based on their first impressions. If an older generation of an immigrant group comes to America and rapidly achieves educational success, the later generations will most likely obtain benefits from society due to the positive impression made by the older generation. This is very evident today as for many generations; Asian immigrants have gained a reputation to strive academically. Due to this reputation, educational institutions will make greater investments in Asian immigrants than they would for Mexican immigrants; who suffer from stereotypes of low educational attainment; stereotypes that were developed based on the low economic success of earlier generations of Mexican immigrants (Crosnoe 2011).
Socioeconomic status is also a tremendous factor concerning education attainment for immigrant children. It is significantly harder for children of immigrants with low socioeconomic status to be successful educationally for many reasons. Firstly, low socioeconomic status increases stress and increases the possibility of distractions. Low socioeconomic status also increases the possibility that the children will have to drop out of school and get jobs (very low wage jobs due to little to no educational attainment) to help support their families. This continues to negatively affect numerous immigrant children as they feel as though they have no choice but to abandon their educational careers in order to help their families survive.
Educational success of children of immigrants is a very complex subject that is based on numerous factors. Knowledge of the English language, stereotypes based on educational success of older generations, and socioeconomic status are just three of many other factors that affect the educational outcomes of different immigrant groups.
Batalova, Jeanne. Apr. 2008. “Migration Information Source – Mexican Immigrants in the United States.” The Migration Information Source. <http://www.migrationinformation.org/feature/display.cfm?ID=679>.
Crosnoe, Robert, and Ruth N. Lopez Turley. 2011. K-12 Educational Outcomes of Immigrant Youth. Rep. 1st ed. Vol. 21.