Minority Language Status, Generation, and the Educational Performance of Immigrant Children

Rachel E. Durham, Pennsylvania State University
George Farkas, Pennsylvania State University

The educational achievement of immigrant children is central to their success, but within the American educational system, they must overcome at least two major obstacles. One, the majority of recent immigrant families have lower SES than native students’ families, yet SES is key to parents’ ability to promote educational achievement. Second, immigrant parents often speak a language other than English; thus their children may begin schooling with a limited knowledge of the language used for instruction. Research has suggested that recent immigrants have higher achievement than native-borns, but studies finding this effect lack concrete data on students’ English ability. Using English language assessment data from the ECLS-K, this study tests whether generational effects on fifth-grade academic outcomes are mediated by early English ability. Results show that English skill is a suppressor on the generational effect, giving support to the “immigrant optimism hypothesis,” suggesting that this effect is evident among elementary students.

  See extended abstract

Presented in Session 55: Immigration and Child Development