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On the Educational Rights of Undocumented Students: A Call to Expand Teachers’ Awareness of Policies Impacting Undocumented Students and Strategic Empathy

by Sophia Rodriguez & William McCorkle - 2020

Background/Context: Undocumented and DACAmented students face substantial restrictions in higher education as well as in U.S. society. Though there has been significant research on the effects of these policies on the lives and educational outcomes of immigrant students, including how undocumented students are accessing higher education, there is less understanding of K–12 teachers’ awareness of these policies and their attitudes toward these policies. This is especially true in regard to aggregated, nationwide quantitative research.

Purpose: The purpose of this study is to examine the awareness of teachers nationwide toward the educational experiences and policies of immigrant students, their awareness of false immigration narratives, and teachers’ attitudes toward education policies for immigrant students. In addition, the relationship between teachers’ awareness and attitudes was analyzed. This research is relevant because the awareness of teachers toward the educational experiences of immigrant students is central to cultivating strategic empathy. Similarly, an understanding of the sociopolitical realties of immigrant students, particularly those with an undocumented status, is necessary to advocate for and fulfill students’ educational needs. Furthermore, teachers’ attitudes and beliefs toward educational policies for immigrant students are fundamental because they may reflect on more implicit attitudes of teachers toward immigrant and marginalized populations.

Research Design: The study is based in a correlation quantitative design that explored the relationship between awareness and attitudes. The research centers on a study of K–12 teachers (N = 5,190) from across all regions of the United States. The instrument measuring awareness and attitudes was designed and validated by the authors. The analyses revealed that overall, there was a relatively strong awareness of educational policies for immigrant students and identification of false immigration narratives. However, several areas of unawareness were especially notable, particularly related to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the ease of the immigration system. The attitudes of teachers toward educational policies for immigrant students leaned in a more positive direction overall. Additionally, the analysis revealed a significant correlation between awareness of educational policies and attitudes (r = .170, p = < .001) and a stronger correlation between awareness of false immigration narratives and attitudes (r = .579, p = < .001).

Conclusions: From these data, the authors call for an expanded view of teachers’ awareness in the form of what is conceptualized as sociopolitical strategic empathy. Implications of the data speak to the dangers of ill-prepared teachers and how their lack of awareness impacts attitudes toward undocumented students/lack of inclusive views toward rights.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 122 Number 12, 2020, p. -
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23502, Date Accessed: 3/6/2021 12:09:45 PM

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About the Author
  • Sophia Rodriguez
    University of Maryland, College Park
    E-mail Author
    SOPHIA RODRIGUEZ, Ph.D., is assistant professor of education policy and urban education at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her research interests relate to promoting equity for undocumented students. Her recent research appears in Anthropology & Education Quarterly, Educational Policy, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, and Urban Education.
  • William McCorkle
    College of Charleston
    E-mail Author
    WILLIAM MCCORKLE, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of educational foundations and social studies education at the College of Charleston. His research interests relate to understanding how K–12 teachers promote equity for undocumented students, particularly within the social studies classroom. His recent research appears in Critical Questions in Education, The Social Studies, and Social Studies Education Review.
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