Mexican Roots, American Schools: Helping Mexican Immigrant Children Succeed
reviewed by David A. Badillo - October 16, 2007
Title: Mexican Roots, American Schools: Helping Mexican Immigrant Children Succeed
Author(s): Robert Crosnoe
Publisher: Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA
ISBN: 080475523X, Pages: 163, Year: 2006
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This is a useful book, not so much because author Robert Crosnoe succeeds in his goal of advancing commentary on major social policy issues, but because of the opening for further research that it presents for exploring important variables of educational inequality among children of Mexican immigrant families. Crosnoe analyzes a national statistical sample gleaned from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) by the United States Department of Educationthe Early Childhood Longitudinal Studyprimarily the portion sampling kindergartners in the fall of 1998 (ECLS-K), along with two final data collections covering 2002 and 2004. The data largely draw from parent and teacher reports, and his analysis places special emphasis on revealing barriers to early mathematics learning, as well as on evaluating educational processes and inequalities at the beginning of formal schooling. He also examines the important transition to elementary school. The rather slim volume of text (ca. 100 pages) is supplemented with an appendix that includes charts obtained from regression models and other graphics.
Crosnoes study of first- and second-generation children attempts to bring fresh insights to educational issues. In the process he embarks on a tentative effort to critique some of the underlying societal and civil rights dimensions to educational inequality, while examining social and other barriers to educational achievement. The results are mixed: more effective in illuminating (and decrying) unequal conditions among children from Mexican immigrant families as compared to those of native-born ancestryincluding African Americansand less so in suggesting a path for their elimination.
Crosnoe states at the outset that the time is now to figure out how to facilitate the realization of the dreams at the heart of the Mexican immigrant experience and that children of Mexican immigrant families should be a primary focal point in the pursuit of this basic but important goal (p. 2). The author addresses policy makers and educators, but he never really engages the extensive social science literature that has defined and outlined theories pertaining to social inequality. The materials relied on for interpreting the educational experiences of Mexican Americans and other Latinos appear to be mostly quantitative, although the educational sources cited in the bibliography are more effectively balanced with qualitative studies. Crosnoe contributes to the general literature with relevant and interesting data that begin to unravel some abiding questions.
Unfortunately there is neither a socio-historical dimension nor any genuine exploration of homeland conditions (such as specifics relating to education in Mexico). This is not an uncommon oversight in sociological and educational analyses, but the omission is particularly glaring here given the authors continual reliance on interpretations based on differences, which calls out for at least a general discussion of illiteracy, lack of schooling, and other prevalent long-standing inequalities between a childs educational outcomes in Mexico and those north of the border. Another drawback is the fact that the national sample cannot be disaggregated by city or region. This limits its usefulness for scholars seeking to understand, say, the relative success of children of Mexican families in Chicago as against, say, Dallas, San Antonio, or New York City. Every locale, of course, has its own distinct socioeconomic outcomes and contexts, and these get lost in a national sample. Instead we get a composite that ultimately breaks into the worn monolithic categories of White, Mexican American, African American, and the like, without any real accounting for the spectrum of reasons (global and local) that result in educational inequality in the first place. Thus it is hardly surprising that such conditions are not immediately overcome in the immigrant childs early years of schooling.
Some worthwhile findings are mentioned, such as the fact that even though children of Mexican immigrant families have lower average beginning kindergarten math scores than Whites, African Americans, other Latinos, and Asian Americans (p. 18), recent immigrants (i.e., the first-generation children within the Mexican-origin group) do somewhat better than their native-born Mexican-American kindergarten counterparts (p. 14). Importantly, as part of a larger examination of domains and contexts in chapters 3 and 4, Crosnoe points out in some detail how, even though poorer in physical health and thereby learning impaired, children from Mexican immigrant families (here both the first and second generation) gain a potential mental health benefit from greater family stability, security, and support. The author also notes that the psychosocial skills of children from Mexican immigrant families are one of their great resources in making up lost educational ground (p. 26). These interesting factors, however, remain somewhat detached from a larger argument and are not taken to any logical conclusion.
As the focus shifts from the start of kindergarten to the first several years of elementary school similar setbacks are evident. Differentials between children from Mexican immigrant families and their peers narrowed slightly by third grade, but not enough to contradict the conventional wisdom that preschool developmental differences continue to impair learning over time. Crosnoe speculates that greater family participation in home reading activities and parental involvement in school would help redress some of the original inequalities (as would enhanced physical health), but this line of thinking seems forced. It is not clear in exactly what form social policy programs or other types of intervention need to be implemented and what they should consist of, beyond sympathetic concern.
It is apparent that children from Mexican immigrant families tend to be less familiar with English and math when they start school than their peers, and Crosnoe concludes that lower levels of math learning among children from Mexican immigrant families when compared with their native-born peers in first grade widened somewhat over the early years of elementary school (p. 83). He attributes roughly half the differences in math learning in first grade to disadvantaged socioeconomic circumstances which, along with preschool cognitive skill levels, seem to be the major causes of differences in early learning (p. 90). The author also offers reminders that despite limited linguistic and math preparation an individuals natural abilities and perseverance can boost cognitive skills.
In sum, the volume calls attention to neglected aspects of the entire educational development environment (my word) of the children of Mexican immigrants. Its arguments, while not particularly trenchant, are nevertheless useful both in and out of the classroom. One cannot help but wonder, however, if they might not have been more profitably condensed into a journal article or two, and thereby published with greater readability for a more tightly targeted audience.