Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

Specialized High Schools for Immigrant Students: A Promising New Idea

Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

Specialized High Schools for Immigrant Students: A Promising New Idea

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

A recent Colorado news story highlighted the opening of two new high schools. While many towns might consider the opening of a new school to be newsworthy in and of itself, these schools are getting attention for some other unusual reasons. First, although the schools are public and free, all of their financing has so far been provided by a wealthy philanthropist who also happens to be the chairman of the state board of education. The second, and more important, distinguishing characteristic is that the schools are designed specifically to serve immigrant students between the ages of 16 and 21.1 While the funding of these Colorado public schools certainly makes them unique, their goal of specifically addressing the needs of older immigrant students is representative of a modest, but growing trend. The new Colorado schools are modeled after existing programs in New York. The Houston Independent School District has also approved plans to open a similar school in January of 2005.2

These programs are recognition of the fact that older immigrant students have educational needs that are not well served by more traditional models. Historically, discussions about educating immigrants have dealt primarily with language acquisition and have focused disproportionately on earlier grades.3 The reality is that immigrant children arrive in all grades and older students often face more difficult obstacles than their younger counterparts. Aside from having less time to learn more complex material with less specialized language assistance,4 older immigrant students often have "adult responsibilities" which force them to choose work over school.5

By combining specialized curricula with flexible scheduling the founders of these schools hope to offer older immigrant students a more meaningful educational experience that will better prepare them for life, work and success in their new country.6

It would be difficult to criticize the merits of the goal. However, to determine if this newest model is a viable option that can (or should) be implemented on a wider scale, this note will examine it within a broader context. Part II will briefly review recent immigration trends and highlight the need to contemplate the education of immigrants as an issue separate from general immigration policy, as well as the benefits to be gained from such separate consideration. Part III will evaluate these "newcomer" programs in relation to more traditional approaches. Part IV will anticipate some potential legal issues relevant to the establishment of such programs and finally, Part V will conclude that while there are in fact some potential problems which educators should seek to avoid, these programs are a promising experiment that should be closely observed by the educational community.

II. IMMIGRANT EDUCATION AS SEPARATE FROM IMMIGRATION POLICY

Since the 1990's, the number of immigrants living and working in the United States has increased significantly. As of the 2000 census report, 28 million people living in the United States, or 12% of the total population, were foreign born.7 Immigrants and children of immigrants in New York and Los Angeles accounted for more than half of the populations of those two cities and in Miami, the number approached three quarters.8 During the 1990's, immigration accounted for more than 40% of the nation's population growth and over 50% of the growth in the labor force.9

Most people that immigrate to the United States come seeking employment.10 While a good number arrive highly educated, ready to fill positions in high-tech industries, the majority come to fill low-paying, menial positions not wanted by most native-born workers.11 To understate the obvious, the policies governing how these immigrants gain admission to the country and to what they are entitled upon arrival is the subject of constant and contentious debate. Regardless of what position one might take in that debate, the fact remains that the immigrant population in this country is substantial and growing, and its literacy rate has a real impact on our society as a whole. …

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