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School-Age Children in Immigrant Families: Challenges and Opportunities for America’s Schools


by Donald J. Hernandez, Nancy A. Denton & Suzanne E. Macartney — 2009

Background/Context: By the year 2030, when the baby boom generation born between 1946 and 1964 will be in the retirement ages, 72% of the elderly will be non-Hispanic Whites, compared with 56% for working-age adults, and 50% for children. As the predominantly White baby boomers reach retirement, they will increasingly depend for economic support on the productive activities and civic participation of working-age adults who are members of racial and ethnic minorities and, in many cases, children of immigrants. To prepare these young people for lives as productive workers and engaged citizens, we need to pay more attention to creating conditions that will foster their educational success. The profound shift taking place in the composition of the school-age population has implications for schools.

Purpose/Objective/Research Questions/Focus of Study: This article presents a demographic overview of school-age children in immigrant families and compares them with their peers in native-born families. After tracing the shift in the national origins of children of immigrants that has taken place over the past century, we consider the new challenges and opportunities presented to the education system by the socioeconomic, cultural, and religious diversity of this new and growing population of students and by their presence in a growing number of suburban and rural, as well as urban, communities.

Population/Participants/Subjects: This research uses data from Census 2000 to study children in immigrant families who have at least one foreign-born parent compared with children in native-born families who were born in the United States to U.S.-born parents.

Research Design: This research is a secondary analysis of data from Census 2000.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Immigration is transforming the demography of America. In less than three decades, a majority of children are likely to belong to race-ethnic minorities who are Hispanic, Black, Asian, or another non-White race, mainly because of immigration and births to immigrants and their descendants. The educational success achieved by immigrant groups, and their subsequent economic productivity, is important not only to the groups themselves but also to the broad American population because these groups will compose an increasingly important segment of the U.S. labor force during the next few decades; this labor force will be supporting the predominantly White baby boom generation throughout their retirement years. As we increasingly become a nation of minorities, with no single race-ethnic group in the majority, the educational success of all children, especially the rapidly growing population of children in immigrant families, merits increasing attention from teachers, school administrators, and public officials.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 111 Number 3, 2009, p. 616-658
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15331, Date Accessed: 12/12/2017 8:21:32 PM

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About the Author
  • Donald Hernandez
    University at Albany, State University of New York
    E-mail Author
    DONALD J. HERNANDEZ, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology, University at Albany, State University of New York, currently conducts research on an alternative poverty measure for the United States to overcome limitations of the current official measure; on the extent to which socioeconomic disparities and cultural differences can account for low enrollment in early education programs; on disparities in child well-being by race-ethnic and immigrant origins and socioeconomic status; and on comparable indicators of well-being for children in immigrant and native-born families in nine rich countries. He is coauthor, with Nancy A. Denton and Suzanne E. Macartney, of “Child Poverty in the U.S.: A New Family Budget Approach with Comparison to European Countries” in Helmut Wintersberger, Leena Alanen, Thomas Olk, and Jens Qvortrup (Eds.), Childhood, Generational Order and the Welfare State: Exploring Children’s Social and Economic Welfare, Volume 1 of COST A19: Children’s Welfare (University Press of Southern Denmark, 2007) and editor of Children of Immigrants: Health, Adjustment, and Public Assistance (National Academy Press, 1999).
  • Nancy Denton
    University at Albany, State University of New York
    E-mail Author
    NANCY A. DENTON is a professor in the Department of Sociology and associate director of the Center for Social and Demographic Analysis, University at Albany, State University of New York, and Director of the Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research. She is currently conducting research in the areas of residential segregation, race and ethnic relations, social demography, and urban sociology. She is the author of “Segregation and Discrimination in Housing” in Rachel G. Bratt, Michael E. Stone, and Chester Hartman (Eds.), A Right to Housing: Foundation of a New Social Agenda (Temple University Press, 2006), and coauthor, with Richard D. Alba, of “The Old and New Landscapes of Diversity: Residential Patterns of Immigrant Minorities,” in Nancy Foner and George M. Frederickson (Eds.), Not Just Black and White (Russell Sage Press, 2004)
  • Suzanne Macartney
    University at Albany, State University of New York
    E-mail Author
    SUZANNE E. MACARTNEY is a project research assistant at the Center for Social and Demographic Analysis, University at Albany, State University of New York. She is currently at work on her dissertation for the Department of Sociology, examining how neighborhoods shape the lives of minority children in immigrant families. She is coauthor, with Donald J. Hernandez and Nancy A. Denton, of “Child Poverty in the U.S.: A New Family Budget Approach with Comparison to European Countries,” in Helmut Wintersberger, Leena Alanen, Thomas Olk, and Jens Qvortrup (Eds.), Childhood, Generational Order and the Welfare State: Exploring Children’s Social and Economic Welfare, Volume 1 of COST A19: Children’s Welfare (University Press of Southern Denmark, 2007).
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