How Immigrants Fare in U.S. Public Schools

Published February 1, 1999

Immigrant parents and their children decisively reject bilingual education and emphatically agree that children should speak English. Immigrant parents surveyed recently by Public Agenda, a public opinion research firm, said the schools’ first priority with their students should be to teach English. In a multiyear study published last spring, other researchers found that the children of immigrants overwhelmingly prefer English to their parents’ native tongues.

The multiyear research study, led by sociology professors Ruben Rumbaut of Michigan State University and Alejandro Portes of Princeton University, also reveals that the children of immigrants–who now comprise almost one in five American children–outperform their native-born peers and have lower dropout rates than other American children. However, in common with other American children, students from more advantaged backgrounds do better than poorer children.

Among the study’s findings:

  • Children of Asian parents–Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Korean — had the highest grades, As and Bs;
  • Children of English-speaking West Indians had lower grades, Cs and C-pluses;
  • Children of Latin-American and Haitian parents had the lowest grades, Cs and lower;
  • By studying longer and watching less television, the children of impoverished Southeast Asian refugees with little education had above-average grades and were the least likely to become dropouts;
  • Children of Cuban immigrants–from average to above-average socioeconomic backgrounds–had the highest dropout rates and among the lowest grades.

Although a majority of the predominantly Hispanic, Asian, and black children surveyed had personally experienced discrimination, an even larger majority expressed the belief that the United States is still the best country in the world to live in.

For more information …

The complete text of the Rumbaut/Portes study is available in four parts through PolicyBot. Point your Web browser to, click on the PolicyBot icon, and search for old documents #2134401 (part 1, 15 pp.); #2134402 (part 2, 12 pp.); #2134403 (appendix 1, 11 pp.); and #2134404 (appendix 2, 13 pp.).