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Who's Left Behind?

Immigrant Children in High and Low LEP Schools

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Document date: September 30, 2005
Released online: September 30, 2005

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).


This report was made possible by generous financial support from the Foundation for Child Development.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 (NCLB) is a federal law that, among other things, holds schools accountable for the academic performance of limited English proficient (LEP) students. Many of these LEP children are immigrants or children of immigrants. The law's stringent requirements, which converge with rapid demographics-driven change in the U.S. immigrant population, necessitate renewed attention to how immigrant children and the children of immigrants are educated in the United States.

Using data collected in the 1999-2000 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), this report studies the characteristics of schools serving immigrant children at the time of NCLB's passage. As SASS lacks a measure of immigration status among school children, this analysis uses English language proficiency level (or LEP status) as a proxy for immigrant status, recognizing that some LEP students may be neither immigrants nor their first-generation children, but rather second- or third-generation U.S.-born children. Focusing on nationally-representative information about elementary schools, principals, and teachers, the study compares differences between schools with high proportions of LEP students and schools with fewer and no such students to examine potential differences among the schools educating the nation's young.

The analysis reveals that LEP elementary school students are largely concentrated in a small number of schools: nearly 70 percent of the nation's LEP students are enrolled in 10 percent of its schools. These schools, called in this report "High-LEP," are predominately located in urban areas, and LEP students are largely minority and economically disadvantaged, embedding the discussion of LEP students' education within the context of what is already known about poor, minority, immigrant-serving urban schools.

The results also show that almost one-third of all LEP children enroll in schools serving low percentages of LEP children, or "Low-LEP" schools. Important differences between High-LEP and Low-LEP schools are observed in principal and teacher demographics, training, and experience. Teachers in High-LEP schools are more likely than those in other schools to have provisional, emergency, or temporary certification, and new teachers in High-LEP schools are substantially more likely to be uncertified. On the other hand, Low-LEP schools lag behind High-LEP schools in LEP-focused in-service training for general education teachers, and in offering important services (such as support and enrichment programs).

From these and other findings, a complicated picture emerges. Concerns regarding the resources and services available to immigrant children are in some instances allayed, and in others reinforced, not only for students in High-LEP schools but also for the nearly one-third of LEP students in Low-LEP schools. The report concludes by discussing the implications of the findings, focusing in particular on the educational opportunities of LEP students in the context of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).



Topics/Tags: | Children and Youth | Education | Immigrants | Race/Ethnicity/Gender


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