Federal Funding for Newcomer Schools: A Bipartisan Immigrant Education Initiative

Article excerpt

Over the past year, immigration has gripped the nation's attention, and for good reason. Immigration is increasing at a furious rate, and the number of immigrants living in the United States is at an all-time high. (1) This surge in immigration has sparked concerns about how the children of immigrants from non-English-speaking countries--who constitute over 90% of those arriving in the United States (2)--should be educated.

Students from non-English-speaking backgrounds make up the fastest growing segment of the American student population: the number of students with limited English proficiency in U.S. schools has almost doubled over the past decade. (3) Such students face special challenges upon arrival, not only because they do not speak the language, but also because often they have received little or no formal schooling in their native countries. The public schools in which they enroll, however, often fail to respond effectively to the needs of many of these immigrant students, who are far more likely to drop out of school than their nonimmigrant peers. (4)

To better serve high-risk immigrant populations, school districts in many states have for years experimented with a promising initiative that deserves increased federal attention: the newcomer school. Newcomer schools, which cater exclusively to non-English-speaking immigrants, are designed to help these students--particularly those who have little prior schooling--learn the English language, learn about American culture and how to balance the cultural environment at school with the native cultural environment many still find at home, and learn remedial academic content that will facilitate their transition into the mainstream classroom. (5)

Widespread proliferation of newcomer schools has been hindered, however, by a lack of adequate funding. This Note attempts to demonstrate that this funding gap represents a unique opportunity for federal lawmakers eager to provide needed federal support to programs that address issues that matter to voters, (6) and this Note thus serves to encourage members of Congress and the executive branch to make federal funding for newcomer schools a priority. Part I explores the failure of American public schools to educate at-risk immigrant students. Part II introduces the newcomer school model. Part III then proposes a two-part initiative to improve education for at-risk immigrants. First, it encourages federal legislation authorizing grants to states to administer newcomer programs to recent immigrants. Second, it urges federal lawmakers to commission, through the Department of Education, randomized, controlled studies of newcomer program models to evaluate what types of programs most effectively improve student achievement. Part IV concludes.

I. THE PROBLEM: FAILURE TO EDUCATE AT-RISK IMMIGRANT STUDENTS

Historically, within two or three generations immigrants to the United States could penetrate high-wage professions and enjoy the accompanying lifestyle. (7) Today, such success is more difficult to achieve. Many immigrants face special challenges that make them far less likely than native-born Americans to succeed in school. As a result, they also are less likely to obtain high-paying jobs and are more likely to need social services later in life. (8)

The problem is one of significant magnitude. The U.S. immigrant population increased over 30% during the 1990s, and among children, immigrants constitute the fastest growing group. (9) Moreover, immigration accounts for nearly the entire increase in public school enrollment over the past two decades. (10) The challenges posed by immigrant education thus become more pressing every day.

A. The Unique Needs of High-Risk Immigrant Students

Not all immigrant students struggle academically, but some subpopulations experience considerable difficulty succeeding in school. One subpopulation that fares especially poorly is students with limited English proficiency (LEP). …