What Strategies Do Chinese Immigrant Parents Use to Send Their Children to High-Performing Public School Districts?

By Liang, Senfeng | School Community Journal, Fall 2015 | Go to article overview

What Strategies Do Chinese Immigrant Parents Use to Send Their Children to High-Performing Public School Districts?


Liang, Senfeng, School Community Journal


Introduction

Studies suggest that family income matters for students' education, but it is not always clear in what ways family income matters (Davis-Kean, 2005; Duncan & Magnuson, 2005). One way family income influences students' education is the family's practices of selecting a neighborhood (and related school district) in which to live. As most U.S. students attend their zoned public school, neighborhood and the quality of schools can deeply influence students' education (Catsambis & Beveridge, 2012). In zoned public school districts, the home address of a student determines which schools the student will attend, and students are not allowed to attend schools that do not belong to the corresponding zones. For students who attend zoned public schools, it is critical for their families to choose a high-performing school district if parents want their children to excel. In fact, some scholars (Gardner, 2001; Parker, 2012) even find that students' zip codes can largely predict their probability of going to college.

People may expect that parents who send their children to public schools usually wish to send their children to the best school district and to have them attend the best public schools. However, the quality of public schools is often positively associated with the living expense (especially housing) in that area. Thus, not every family can afford to live in a district with excellent public schools. Moreover, not all parents have the knowledge and resources to choose high-performing schools.

Many Americans, regardless of race or ethnicity, choose their housing based on school district, but they may be limited by their income and available budget. It is common that families with different income levels reside in school districts with large variations in quality. Researchers find that middle-class families usually choose to live in affluent neighborhoods, and thus their children attend public schools of better quality and have higher educational attainment (Rosenbaum, DeLuca, & Tuck, 2005). In contrast, poor families are often found to be trapped in poor neighborhoods, and their children receive lower quality education in their zoned public schools (South & Crowder, 1997).

In 2013, for children under the age of 18 in the United States, 25% lived with at least one immigrant parent (Zong & Batalova, 2015). Little is known about how immigrant families with various income levels and different educational attainment deal with many challenges (e.g., finance, language, culture, knowledge of the school system), especially related to children's education, such as families' intentions to move to "good" school districts and attend "good" schools. Despite the large number of children of immigrant families in U.S. schools, there are relatively few studies involving immigrant families' school choices (Sattin-Bajaj, 2011). Thus, it is meaningful to examine immigrant families' school choice strategies, which are largely determined by their home selection strategies. This study will illustrate how nine Chinese immigrant families with diverse incomes attempted to live in "good" school districts.

Types of Chinese Immigrant Families

This study will focus on Chinese immigrant families, because compared to other Asian American groups, Chinese American is the largest group and has the longest history in the United States (Siu, 1992b). Much of the relevant literature has suggested that the Chinese American population is characterized by a bimodal pattern consisting of a highly educated middle class and a less educated working class (Li, 2005; Louie, 2004; Siu, 1992a; Yin, 2007). However, little attention has been paid to the families that fit in between these two categories. In this study, besides the two widely known types of families, two additional types of families were included: small business families, and transitional professional families.

I categorize the families into two larger types: lower income families and higher income families. …

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