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Children of Immigrants and Educational Expectations: The Roles of School Composition


by Ryan Wells — 2010

Background/Context: Many children of immigrants are not enrolled in high schools that sufficiently meet their needs, and subsequently, many are not making a successful transition to, and/or successfully completing, higher education. As immigration grows in the United States, educators and policy makers must understand how the educational processes for children of immigrants differ from nonimmigrants. Because expectations for higher education are a necessary, though insufficient, step toward college attendance and degree attainment, and because students have these attitudes influenced by the schools they attend, I examine high school composition for its effects on educational expectations and how compositional effects differ between children of immigrants and nonimmigrants.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study intends to be another step on the path toward understanding the educational processes of children of immigrants specifically, and of all students more broadly, as the immigrant population grows in U.S. schools. Toward those ends, this study is based on two overarching research questions: (1) How do the immigrant compositions of U.S. secondary schools affect the educational expectations of all students? (2) How do the compositions of U.S. secondary schools affect the educational expectations of children of immigrants differently than nonimmigrant students?

Research Design: The research questions are addressed via secondary data analysis using data from the Educational Longitudinal Study (ELS:2002/2004), which were collected by the National Center for Education Statistics. I explore school composition effects on a binary dependent variable indicating whether a 12th-grade student expects to complete a graduate or professional degree. This study emphasizes a critical-quantitative approach by demonstrating that common theories and assumptions about educational expectations may be inaccurate for children of immigrants in today’s schools.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Results show that children of immigrants are affected differently by school composition than are nonimmigrants, and in ways that contradict commonly accepted theoretical views. Specifically, this analysis demonstrates that comparative and normative theories of school effects are not accurate for children of immigrants, at least not to the same degree as they are for nonimmigrants. This is a reminder to researchers and practitioners alike that subgroups of students, in this case the children of immigrants, may not be affected by schools in similar ways.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 112 Number 6, 2010, p. 1679-1704
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15694, Date Accessed: 12/16/2017 8:14:41 AM

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About the Author
  • Ryan Wells
    University of Massachusetts Amherst
    E-mail Author
    RYAN WELLS is an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His current research is broadly focused on college access and equity in the college transition process. Recent publications have examined issues of race, ethnicity, and social/cultural capital for student persistence in higher education in the Journal of College Student Retention and Community College Review.
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