Catholic Schools and Immigrant Students: A New Generation
by Vivian Louie & Jennifer Holdaway — 2009
Background/Context: This article considers the role of Catholic schools, an institution born of the adaptation of previous immigrant waves, in the education of new immigrants and their native-born counterparts. The new immigrants enter a landscape in which education plays a much bigger role than it did for their predecessors and yet faces many challenges. Public schools, particularly in urban centers, struggle with financial difficulties and new standards of accountability. Although scholars and the media have praised Catholic schools for performing better than public schools in promoting academic achievement among urban low-income minority students, the Catholic system also faces fiscal difficulties, declining enrollments, and school closings.
Purpose/Objective/Research Questions/Focus of Study: We examine the use of Catholic school by families of different ethnic backgrounds and how attendance relates both to religious affiliation and to socioeconomic class. We also analyze whether attending or graduating from Catholic high school has a positive effect on educational attainment and on the incidence of arrest and incarceration for men, and early childbearing for women. Finally, we seek to understand why immigrant families choose Catholic schools and how their children experience them.
Research Design: We draw on data collected for the Immigrant Second Generation in Metropolitan New York Study (ISGMNY). The study includes survey data on 3,415 young adults aged 18–32 who were interviewed between 1998 and 2001. Respondents include second-generation immigrants and native-born individuals. The study also includes qualitative data from in-depth interviews. For this article, we use interviews conducted with 74 respondents from immigrant and native-born groups who attended Catholic high schools, and those who referenced Catholic schools in their educational history even if they did not attend.
Conclusions/Recommendations: For immigrant families who have arrived recently, religion seems to be more or less irrelevant to the decision to send their children to Catholic school. Instead, like many native Blacks and Latinos, these families choose Catholic schools to avoid what they see as a seriously deficient public school system. To some extent, this represents a rational choice, but for many immigrant families, it also reflects a lack of knowledge about the public education system. Although many low-income families would like to send their children to Catholic school, cost is an insurmountable barrier for many. With the exception of native-born Whites, socioeconomic factors are very important in shaping who can go to Catholic school and whether students can stay until graduation. In many cases, families were forced to withdraw their children by high school, when costs rise sharply. Nonetheless, overall, the data show a benefit in terms of educational attainment for nearly all groups, and also a positive impact in terms of avoiding of certain problems, such as early pregnancy for girls and trouble with police for boys.
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