Checking the Immigrant Friendliness of Your Schools

views updated

Checking the Immigrant Friendliness of Your Schools


By: Northwest Regional Education Laboratory

Date: September 6, 2001

Source: Northwest Regional Education Laboratory. "Improving Education for Immigrant Students." September 6, 2001 〈〉 (accessed July 1, 2006).

About the Author: The Northwest Regional Education Laboratory provides research and development assistance to educational, governmental, and community agencies as well as businesses and labor organizations. It chiefly serves the states of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington.


Children pose a unique immigration problem. While they are under the control of parents, they are also subject to the demands of educational officials. In the past, parents and educators often clashed over cultural values. In the late twentieth century, educational leaders became more supportive of multiculturalism. As an alternative to forcing Americanization upon children, they looked for ways to welcome immigrant students and celebrate other ethnicities.

When the period of mass immigration began in the mid-nineteenth century, many Americans began to think of the expanding public school system as a place in which devotion to America could be taught along with reading, writing, and arithmetic. In most public schools, American meant Protestant American and the curriculum included Bible-reading and school prayer. As a result, Roman Catholics formed private schools that used Catholic Bibles instead of the King James version. Protestant ethnic denominations then began to create schools that taught in non-English languages, typically German. Some of these schools offered English as foreign language. By 1890, a rising chorus of complaints led to legislation banning instruction in foreign languages in some states and localities. This legislation reached its peak during the anti-German hysteria of World War I when many states banned the teaching of the German language.

The vast majority of immigrant children have always received instruction in English and have become Americanized. In the latter half of the twentieth century, under the impact of large numbers of Spanish-speaking children, many public schools developed a system of bilingual education under which students who did not have a good command of English could attend classes taught in Spanish in schools that were otherwise instructing in English. These classes were enormously controversial. Opponents argued that they allowed children to avoid becoming Americanized and, by doing so, posed a threat to the survival of the American way of life; supporters claimed the classes enabled children to excel and become more confident by being relieved of the burden of learning basic facts and skills through a second language. Despite the continuing controversy, educators have continued to offer programs that promote multiculturalism. The program by the Northwest Regional Education Laboratory was made public a few days before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks reshaped the debate over immigration by increasing fears of immigrants.



See primary source image.


The debate over immigration and multiculturalism expanded at the turn of the millennium to include birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants. The issue has the potential to reshape public education by prompting children to avoid schools for fear of deportation or arrest.

The Fourteenth Amendment provides citizenship to anyone born in the United States. Originally constructed to give citizenship rights to African Americans, it has since given citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants. Legal status allows these children to attend public schools without fear of being deported. However, only about half of developed countries grant birthright citizenship. Most require that one parent be a citizen. Policymakers in the United States have considered reforming the law to make the citizenship of children born in the Unites States follow the citizenship of their parents. They argue that undocumented aliens have demonstrated by their illegal entry into the United States that they do not respect American laws and that their children should not benefit by their lawbreaking. The issue is likely to continue to be raised as long as the subject of illegal immigration is a matter of serious national concern.

Self-Report Card—Teacher
Like good student assessments, this self-report card for classroom teachers is designed to help measure your own progress while identifying ideas for improving your classroom.
AlwaysUsuallyRarelyNeverChecklist for measuring the Immigrant-friendliness of your classroom
Am I familiar with the values, traditions, and customs of students in my classroom?
Am I knowledgeable about the immigration experience of my students' families?
Do I visit at home with the families of immigrant students in my classroom to gain insight into the students' lives and support systems?
Do I learn some vocabulary in the native language of my students to better communicate with them?
Do I encourage immigrant parents to help their children maintain their native language at home while learning English at school?
Do I base my academic expectations on the individual ability of each student rather than on broad or stereotypical assumptions?
Do I understand the English and native-language skills of each student so I can develop individually appropriate classroom and homework assignments?
Do I seek additional, culture-specific assistance to provide appropriate instruction before referring an immigrant student to remedial classes?
Do I use peer teaching, where limited-English-proficient students can participate and practice English-language skills in small groups?
Do I allow students to develop their English-language skills in class without feeling embarrassed or intimidated?
Are all students actively involved in classroom instruction and other classroom activities?
Are classroom seating arrangements balanced by ethnicity as well as by gender?
Are reading materials provided in the native languages represented in my classroom?
Self-Report Card—Administrator
Administrators can take several steps to make their districts and schools more supportive and welcoming to immigrant students.
AlwaysUsuallyRarelyNeverChecklist for measuring the Immigrant-friendliness of your classroom
Do I participate and encourage participation in formal, multicultural courses available within my community?
Do I provide inservice training to staff on equity, multicultural, and immigrant education issues?
Do I hire trained professionals available to provide long-term consultation and analysis for school district planners and classroom teachers?
Do I provide resources for planners and teachers to develop multicultural programs?
Do I develop relationships with surrounding ethnic communities to assist the school with translation, cultural interpretation, and other needs?
Are printed materials (bulletin boards, school publications, etc.) available in the home languages of all children in the school?
Do school clubs and activities reflect the ethnic makeup of the student populations?
Are signs of intolerance dealt with immediately and according to the school's antiharassment policies?
Are immigrant families participating in teacher conferences?



Crawford, James. At War with Diversity: U.S. Language Policy in an Age of Anxiety. Clevedon, U.K.: Multilingual Matters, 2000.

Dinnerstein, Leonard, Roger L. Nichols, and David M. Reimers. Natives and Strangers: A Multicultural History of Americans. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Padilla, Amado M., Halford H. Fairchild, and Concepcion M. Valdez. Bilingual Education: Issues and Strategies. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1990.

Weiss, Bernard J., ed. American Education and the European Immigrant, 1840–1940. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982.

About this article

Checking the Immigrant Friendliness of Your Schools

Updated About content Print Article