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The New Californians: Comparative Research Findings on the Educational Progress of Immigrant Children

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No state has felt the impact of the new immigration more than California, and no institution more than its public schools. A third of the nation's immigrants are concentrated in California; and over a third of California's K-12 public school children speak a language other than English at home. These new Californians are extraordinarily diverse; they hail largely from Asia and Latin America, and include among them at once the most educated and the least educated ethnic groups in the U.S. today. Their children are growing up in a context where economic restructuring, a prolonged recession, and accompanying fiscal woes have exacerbated a deep public discontent particularly aimed at immigrants. Yet for all of the political controversy surrounding the public education of immigrant children - and even though they will become a crucial component of the larger economy and society in the years to come - very little is in fact known about their educational progress and adaptation patterns to date. The import of the course of the adaptation of this new second generation goes far beyond its immediate impacts on school systems, state budgets, and fiscal policies. It will ultimately be the measure by which the long-term national consequences of the present wave of immigration are gauged. This chapter aims to contribute to the development of that knowledge base and to review current research findings about immigrant students in California public schools. It is organized in five parts. First, census data on the size, national origins, and socioeconomic characteristics of the foreign-born population are presented to document the current diversity and its concentration in California. This is followed by a profile of both LEP (Limited English Proficient) and FEP (Fluent English Proficient) language-minority students enrolled statewide in K-12 public schools in California. Next I report results from two new comparative research studies of the educational performance of children of immigrants in San Diego schools (including dropout rates, GPAs, achievement test scores, and educational aspirations), focusing on the largest groups: Mexicans, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians, and East Asian-origin groups. Finally, the findings of four case studies of the adaptation of immigrant high school students in different parts of California are discussed, focusing on Southeast Asians, Punjabi Sikhs from India, Mexicans, and Central Americans.

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